Investing in our Communities by Investing in our Libraries
In my campaign, I have spoken with Trentonians of all ages. It is striking how frequently young people in their early twenties remember Trenton’s libraries fondly. They recall them as places that nurtured their creativity, gave them space to explore their talents, connected them to a much larger world, and set them up to the be the next leaders of the City. The current generation of Trenton’s young adults does not have access to the same depth and breadth of Library resources – something they critically need, for them to become equally engaged and committed to their community.
I believe that libraries are critical community infrastructure. As a 22-year representative of Trenton in the General Assembly, I have always fought hard to ensure that critical resources would be available to fund our City’s libraries. My record speaks for itself: most recently, I sponsored legislation that allowed for additional $125 million in bonding for new library construction, and remediation and repairs for existing facilities.
Thankfully, in October of last year, voters approved the measure by a landslide; while the terms of this grant program are not yet set, I am already working with the State Librarian to ensure that the City will be eligible for a share of the funds that is befitting of the State Capital, that is actively conscious of the issues Trenton’s Library System faces, and that recognizes the historical significance of the Country’s second oldest library system. I am ready to continue that work as your Mayor.
The core issues underlying the reduction in size of Trenton’s library system, are, of course, the budgetary priorities and long-term financial management strategies of prior City Administrations. Over the past decade, fewer and fewer dollars have flowed into the library system than ever before. As a result, local branches have had to close, and the main branch Trenton Free Public Library has had to reduce its staffing and services significantly. While library administrators have done an excellent job working within extreme budgetary constraints – creatively restructuring programming and working with State administrators to find community-conscious solutions – the fact of the matter is that our libraries need more money, both from our robust and generous network of community donors, but more importantly, the government, to fund their operations.
It is my sincere belief that, in terms of importance, investments in public libraries are on par with investments in public schools. Trenton is a community deeply affected by economic and social injustices; libraries are an effective, financially efficient way to help citizens realize their full potential, by providing them with educational resources, venues for creative performance, and an interactive way to learn about the vibrant history of their City. Libraries further provide our students with spaces to supplement their education, and a safe space to spend time after school hours. As Mayor, I will direct my administration to pursue all opportunities, such as State or County funds, grants, or donations, to fully restore funding levels, and ensure that libraries can provide all the services that previous generations of Trentonians enjoyed.
Furthermore, while the main branch Trenton Free Public Library is a vibrant resource for the whole City, our network of neighborhood libraries is equally a cornerstone of the community, and vital for those residents who may not have easy access to the main branch. I’m deeply committed to investigating all options – from rehabilitation and remediation to reconstruction – to open Trenton’s local library branches to the public once more. Importantly, I intend to reopen the libraries as libraries, with the full range of services included. This will not happen instantly: many of the buildings need significant repair, and we need to create a cohesive plan to manage, operate, and staff them. We may need to further explore or redefine our relationships with non-profit organizations and other levels of government. Notwithstanding, as your Mayor, I will commit to not offering piecemeal solutions: Trenton deserves a real, fully functional free public library system.
While the community will need to remain actively involved in the process of remaking our libraries into the fully realized centers of civic engagement that they can be, I will commit to being a proactive partner in the pursuit of providing full financing for the main branch of the Trenton Free Public Library, and in the reopening or reconstruction of our other neighborhood libraries. I look forward to serving as the leader of this effort, as we lift Trenton together!