By DON GLYNN
Niagara Gazette — Budget decisions always pose a difficult challenge, especially when a city like Niagara Falls is so financially strapped for reasons too numerous to list.
Slashing funds for the Niagara Falls Public Library, however, is a move that should be taken only after a thorough review of the situation. It probably would not require a expert accountant to find some fat in the municipal payroll or waste in several departments with those savings channeled elsewhere (e.g. the library).
Michelle Petrazzoulo, the library director, said she was optimistic that the Main Street facility would not be adversely impacted by the final budget. She said that Mayor Paul Dyster and the city council have always been supportive of the library and its services. In fact, the council was expected to deal with the matter at its budget meeting Wednesday afternoon.
At a cursory glance any day in the week, you'll find the Earl W. Brydges Library (the building named for the late senator who was a stalwart proponent of education in the Empire State) is a vital hub of the Niagara community.
Countless local residents use its many facilities and resources including the bank of 15 computers for learning, research or just general guidance in job hunting and other pursuits.
The main collection downstairs — the wide-ranging subjects and hundreds of biographies, among other offerings — must surely rank as one of the best libraries in Western New York. The third-floor Local History Department is a jewel for anyone just browsing the materials or delving into documents and publications in serious study. In the past several years, as many of us know, that department survived some severe threats of cutbacks in services and reduced hours.
In retrospect, all of us probably take libraries for granted. It may take a disaster — or something akin to that — to appreciate their value to the community.
I was reminded of that after Hurricane Sandy battered the Rockaways in the Borough of Queens. Nearly four feet of water smashed through the glass front of a branch library there, ripping thousands of books from the shelves and scattering them onto the sidewalk. A spokesman for the Queens library system, said 'People were just wandering back and forth in shock; they didn't know what else to do." Suddenly, a colorful mobile library bus arrived and opened its doors. When the people spotted the bus parked there for their use, they just burst into tears. Amidst all the debris, sand, glass and pieces of the boardwalk was a vehicle offering warmth, power outlets, emergency information and books.
As it turned out, the storm destroyed more than 100,000 items including books and DVDs in four branch libraries in the Rockaways used by more than 600,000 people last year. While many struggled to put their lives back in order, others found support at the mobile library: information on jobs, transportation, school relocation,Thanksgiving dinner, a cup of free coffee and the chance just to be with people.
Can you imagine what the reaction would be in the Rockaways if someone suggested cutting the library budget? That wouldn't fly.
Perhaps Ms. Petrazzoulo said it best, quoting another source that offered this thought on the subject: "Cutting library budgets in a time of recession is like cutting hospital funds at the time of a plague."
Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.