Rather than grappling with one municipal budget crisis after another, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners should amend or suspend its rules on minimum library funding until the economy is on firmer ground.

Rather than take a piecemeal approach to what is likely to be a growing mountain of waiver requests, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners should amend or suspend its rules on minimum library funding until the economy is on firmer ground.


We understand the board’s desire to provide incentives for communities to adequately fund their libraries. At a time when families are trying to get by on less, libraries – with their free books, movies, Internet access, educational programs and cultural events – are an invaluable resource.


But as municipal leaders struggle with ways to balance budgets without threatening the health and safety of residents, it is likely cuts in staffing and hours will put an increasing number of libraries out of compliance with MBLC regulations.


The board requires a community spend a certain amount on libraries to qualify for aid and to participate in reciprocal borrowing with other libraries in the Regional Library System.


It also penalizes communities for “disproportionate cuts,” defined as a difference of more than 5 percent between the general municipal budget cuts and the library cuts.


Rockland is one of 26 communities in the state currently seeking waivers in order to avoid decertification.


The MBLC in the past has proven rigid about its funding rules. Rockland last appeared in front of the board for the fiscal 1992 budget, when a waiver was denied.


But these are extraordinary times.


In Bridgewater, a library staff that once had 31 people has been reduced to eight.


In Abington, town officials expect a $37,065 cut to the library budget will place its certification in jeopardy.


And Hull’s situation is so bad it has considered closing its libraries entirely.


At a time when the state is encouraging local officials to tap into the benefits of regionalized municipal services, it makes no sense for the MBLC to inhibit the effectiveness of one of the most successful regionalized systems in operation.


In better times, the decertification threat might be enough to get municipal leaders to take better care of an often under-appreciated (and under-funded) jewel.


But right now city and town leaders are numb to that kind of pain and the sanctions only hurt patrons.


The MBLC is expected to decide on Rockland’s waiver at its Feb. 12 meeting.


We hope instead it announces an initiative that shows it appreciates the severity of this financial crisis and makes changes to its policies that support rather than punish its members.


The Patriot Ledger