Letter from New Canaan Library


To the Editor:

Like the many volunteers in Town who commit time and talent to benefit our community, the New Canaan Library Board is dedicated to providing exceptional service to New Canaanites. We are equally proud to operate as a trusted fiduciary partner to government and taxpayers. Given this history, we were both surprised and deeply disappointed in Town Council’s decision to halve our one-time request for an increase in its contribution to the Library’s operating budget which was designed to meet the extraordinary demand we have experienced this past year.

The action taken by the Town Council will force us to slash the Library’s programs and services to a level that would have barely been sufficient in the old Library building. This is a step backwards and certainly not what our community wants. We have experienced a 70% increase in visitors since opening and a higher than anticipated level of engagement with our programs, two key factors which drove our request for the coming year.

Based on thoughtful, data-driven planning, our proposed budget was constructed, vetted and agreed upon through a series of productive meetings with numerous Town bodies. Notwithstanding these efforts, the Town Council decided to reduce Library funding to a level below the TONC budget average.

This decision is devastating to our dedicated staff and volunteers who feel dejected by a “symbolic” budget cut of $107,000 that they believe is not reflective of the Library’s importance to the community. Our donors and patrons are equally disheartened by the disproportionately negative impact it will have on the Library’s services and confused by the immateriality of the cut which represents just 0.06% of the overall Town budget. Community and staff do not understand why all their hard work and investment to create a new home for our Library will not be matched by their Town with the operating support required to realize its potential.

As a successful model of a thriving public-private partnership, the Library privately funds 23 – 25% of our operations annually, as well as all our capital needs. Like most of our peer group in New England, we are an association library, not a municipal library, a distinction which frees the Town from having to pay for 100% of Library services and all building and capital obligations.

Unfortunately, this public-private arrangement and the presumed safety net of private philanthropy can mislead people into thinking that the excellent services and programs they have come to enjoy are guaranteed even with a budget cut. They are not.

Private philanthropy has been a key to the Library’s success and reflects both our extremely generous community and the significant commitment made by our Board and staff; it is also the necessary consequence of comparably lower contributions to our annual budget by the Town.  Respectively, Westport, Darien and Wilton contribute 28%, 26% and 10% more to their libraries than does TONC on a per capita basis.  These towns also contribute substantially more to their libraries as a percentage of their municipal budgets.

Donors in New Canaan step in annually to make up the difference. 100% of Library fundraising activities and the associated overhead are paid for by donor funds, not taxpayer funds. This investment by the Library nets a return of $4 per $1 invested, a successful formula that greatly benefits our entire Town. In actual dollars, donor contributions pay for nearly 100% of non-salary core library expenses – IT, administration, collections, programs – every year.

We have difficult choices to make ahead. As we begin to eliminate elements of the carefully designed playbook we presented to the Town, we hope you will please take a moment to thank our staff who will continue to deliver excellent, caring service to the community we all love.


New Canaan Library Board of Directors

Robert Butman, President

Eileen Thomas, Vice President

Christine Seaver, Vice President

Robert Lowe, Treasurer

Deborah Gordon, Secretary

Rachel Diehl Baker

Jonathan Barry

Sarah O’Herron Casey

Mark DeWaele

Gary Engle

Crawford Hamilton

Ian Hobbs

Thomas Joyce

Victoria Merwin

Fatou Niang

Christopher O’Connor

Douglas Ormond

Allison Rees

Michelle Riley

David Rucci

Patricia Schubert

Douglas Stewart

Thomas Teles

Anne Tseng

Alicia Wyckoff (Honorary)

Peter Ziesing

4 thoughts on “Letter from New Canaan Library

  1. The library is a wonderland for every demographic in our town. Just today one of my kids attended the monthly war games program whilst another child enjoyed a hilarious author visit. The children’s room was humming, kids were playing on the green, adults were sitting in the mezzanine reading. I didn’t venture to the top floor today but typically when I visit after school with my children, the teen area is also filled with kids reading and studying or being engaged by the awesome librarians. I am disappointed in the members of town council who chose to cut the library budget and wonder if they understand the impact to so many members of the community who use the library.

    • Thanks, Jodie. Please note that our news coverage of the Town Council budget reductions is here. Naturally, it’s more likely to happen in a nonlocal election year such as this. Even so, we did note how Town Council members voted in our story, as well as the seats that will be up for election in 2025. Thanks again.

  2. Kudos to the library board for pointing out the total unjustifiability of this budget cut. $107,000 is peanuts in the grand scheme of a $175MM spend, and yet it will feel like a palpable, meaningful sum to all of us who enjoy the library’s robust programming and other offerings.

    How petty, how shortsighted, how miserly it is to create an illusion of scarcity in this land of unrelenting, gold-dipped, actual freaking plenty. And just to withhold resources from a beloved institution out of sheer… what… pettiness? Retribution from the 1913er cohort? Not liking books so much?

    Shaking my damn head.

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