Three Doomed Jersey City Library Branches May be Granted a Temporary Reprieve, but ‘Nothing’s Been Written in Stone’

Under a plan touted by council members at last night’s City Council meeting, the Jersey City Free Public Library’s three neighborhood branches would stay open until June 30 of next year, buoyed by additional city funding. But the deal is not yet complete, and the city’s business administrator would not definitively say the city will allocate the extra money to the library.

Faced with a budget crisis, the library system announced last month that it would close its three neighborhood branches by December 1 of this year. The closures, which were slated to begin with the West Bergen Branch on October 1, were halted after the city and the library began working on a possible solution to save the branches.

At last night’s council meeting, more details emerged about that plan.

According to Ward B councilman David Donnelly and Ward F councilwoman Viola Richardson, the three branches will likely stay open until June 30 of 2011, buoyed by an slight uptick in city funding.

Donnelly said the city has agreed to give the library system $7.395 million this year, up from the $7.075 million previously agreed upon. The library believes it can use that extra money to keep the branches open until the end of the fiscal year. However, as we reported earlier this week, the library continues to move forward with other budget cuts, including the furloughing of all workers for two days each month and pending layoffs.

But Jersey City business administrator Jack Kelly seemed reluctant to allocate precious city money to the library if it can’t make more systemic changes that may allow the branches to stay open past next summer.

Kelly applauded library managers for making changes to their own health care plans, moving from the previous traditional plan to a less-expensive Direct Access plan. It’s a move library leaders may try to replicate with its workers, but since the employees are unionized, that would require clearing additional hurdles.

Still, though, Kelly said that while the library’s leadership says they can make $7.395 million work to keep the three branches open, they haven’t provided him with any cost or staffing projections that prove it.

With that in mind, he would not definitively say the city will allocate the extra money to the library.

“Nothing’s been written in stone,” Kelly said.

Richardson warned that even with the possible extra funding, this was the “minimal amount the libraries can function on,” and said that patrons should still expect to see many programs eliminated. She also said it is likely that New Jersey will decrease the minimum amount that municipalities are required to give to libraries, which could make it even harder for the library to find adequate funding in the next budget cycle, as the city itself continues to grapple with a financial crisis.

The branches, then, face an uncertain future beyond June 30, and they may end up closing next summer instead of this winter, a fate acknowledged by Donnelly.

“You have to fight for priorities in a budget every year,” he said. “This is one of the right things to fight for.”

We have put out a request for additional comment from the library on the cost-cutting moves and the possibility of additional funding, and we’ll update the story if we receive it. But given the fact that the library has recently decided to stop speaking to JCI on the record after we refused to remove user comments critical of the library from a previous article, comment for this story looks unlikely.

Jon Whiten contributed to this report

  • Riaz Wahid

    I attended the last board meeting; they gave two minutes to speakers; What happens after that ? Is the board going to respond to us ?How do we follow-up? Are they willing to have a conversation with TAX PAYERS? Will they accept our suggestions? Except one board member, every one rushed out after the meeting !!!

    It is sad to know that they found a reason not to speak to JCI because of readers comments. The Director of the library has 41 years of experience, she must realize that this is happening under her watch. The bug stops at her. People may not agree that she has done and doing a great job. Can we say, it is the failure of the board members to guide this institution in the right direction? They know that this is coming; It is going to get BAD just for raising health care cost alone, on top of city’s financial mess.

    They should host a forum in City Hall or HCCC and/or online and get ideas from public to develop a long term plan . This city has lot of talent and I am sure they will provide lot of input. They need to seek answers for hard questions from experts. The Director, board members and the tax payers all want to save this institution. There is a common ground to work together. The big question is HOW ? Simple, start the conversation with the people, look at the data, develop best and worst case scenarios and build a plan !!!

    Can we suggest them to extend computer/internet timings for a nominal cost? We don’t have sufficient data like existing usage, challenges, etc etc., my two cents…

  • Riaz Wahid

    I met with the Director and her colleagues yesterday along with some concerned citizens for about an hour and half. They did explain very professionally the various topics from membership enrollment, budget, healthcare costs, the 10 years plan, recent JCI reader comments, fundraising, face book etc., etc.,

    They did bring up an issue that someone broke the front door glass on Oct. 5th night (I guess, the invoice date from the vendor says 10/6). They suspect that this could be because of the reader comments posted here (they quoted, ward c council person’s SUV incident also). I did have a conversation today morning with the Editor/Publisher of JCI about the moderation policy.

    I suggest, the residents to have a conversation with the Library Trustees/Staffs so that we can save these libraries. They do have a Comments and Suggestions link in (I wish it is more visible, interactive and kind of a forum to discuss than an email to webmaster). At this point, they need tons of ideas for fundraising. They did do a survey with other libraries in the county about charging for computer/internet timings. That was a very educative meeting and I did end up with lot of hard questions too. I need to meet with the board and and ask these questions in the next board meeting.

  • Jon Whiten


    Thanks for the update on how to make suggestions to the Library.

    Now, I wasn’t at this meeting you speak of, but if the library did truly advance this theory about their broken door, here are our thoughts:

    The library’s theory that there is a link between reader comments to an act of vandalism — particularly considering that none of them advocated any sort of vandalism or violence — is laughable at best.

    Frankly, it is offensive that they would resort to such a theory and lay blame at our feet for this.

    If the library leadership is being disingenuous and merely trying to smear JCI as retaliation, it’s pretty sad, but it’s nothing we haven’t come across before. But if they actually *believe* this theory of the crime, then there might be some deeper problems with their logic and critical thinking.

    What is our refusal to remove user comments going to be blamed for next?

  • Deshabhimam

    It is stupid of the board members to suggest that any kind of public forum is responsible for break in. The real reason is the institution has failed to provide the services to people. Since not much funds spend on the books, these places are no more place for knowledge but a shelter for non working welfare receipients. May have help rise some one temprament. In this city except salaries and benefits all other services are cut off. We as tax payers are taken for the ride! But may be resident deserve this as they fail to do their duties too. Out of 130,000 votes register the current administration merely elected on 12% votes! The city has about 3,000 people working, out of these lets say 80% stays in the City brings them to 2,400 people. The people in need of savings their jobs living in the city. If they convince four people to vote people with their betterhalf and self, they gathered needed votes. In time of elections people working for the city were visible doing canvasing in city UNIFORM, proving the claim that they were city workers, now one has to wonder any of them show up when job is secured for another four years.

  • Riaz Wahid

    The city council needs to form a sub-committee and look into the library system seriously. They should give them a road map for next 5-10 years because they don’t have a long term plan at this point. Also, it is very difficult for the library to plan, given the fact that state and city appropriations are quite unpredictable. We,the TAX PAYERS can speak only to our elected officials at City Council. Did the library board (an appointed one) fail to guide this institution for the last few years? The best place to start is: DEFINITION, PURPOSE & SCOPE of FREE LIBRARY !!!