On Friday, November 30, 2012, Mayor Santos joined Library Director Josh Humphrey, the Library Board Trustees, including President Jennifer Cullen, Council Members Eileen Eckel and Carol Jean Doyle, and the many Friends of the Library in honoring Dennis Triano for his 31 years of service as a Library Trustee. Originally appointed by Mayor Henry Hill in 1981, Dennis is the longest serving Library Board Trustee in the State.
We are here today to honor a lifelong Kearny resident, Dennis Triano, who has served as a member of the Kearny Library Board of Trustees for over three decades, first appointed by Mayor Henry Hill in 1981, and re-appointed by every mayor since, including me, during his remarkable tenure. He is the longest serving Library Trustee in the State of New Jersey. Dennis, thank you for your dedicated service. I would also like to thank all the Library Trustees, including Board President Jennifer Cullen, and Library Director Josh Humphrey for their service to the library and for organizing this wonderful tribute to Dennis.
The members of the Library Board of Trustees are entrusted with the welfare of an important community institution – the public library. A Trustee must be knowledgeable of the library and its services, provide leadership to support the growth of library services that meet the needs of residents, and be an advocate for the public library in the community at large. Dennis has successfully performed these duties for 31 years, sharing his wisdom, diligence and dedication with his colleagues on the Board of Trustees and the Library Directors with whom he served. During his tenure, Dennis has served as Chairman of the Board’s major committees including the Personnel, Finance, and Buildings and Grounds Committees. He has served as Board Treasurer and, from 1997 to 2006, as Board President. Throughout those years, Dennis always understood the importance of good relationships among the Board, the Library Director and staff, and the Mayor and Council, in order for the library to achieve its mission of serving the public.
We are also here today because we all appreciate the important role of the public library in our community. Our library is an important resource for residents of all ages, where young children work on their reading skills, older children do research, and patrons of all ages can enjoy Book Discussion Clubs, the Craft Circle and special programs. It is an important resource for those with the fewest resources, providing, for example, a go to place for job services, adult literacy training, and information on how to start a small business. The future of our library – and I would add of all community public libraries across the country – is one that must address two distinct challenges through good management and the strategic visioning of librarians, trustees, patrons and friends.
The first is a financial one. In New Jersey, the amount of tax revenue allocated to operate a municipality’s public library is based on a percentage of all property tax assessments in that community. In fact, that dedicated amount now appears as a separate line entry on your tax bill. Because property values have fallen over the past four years, bringing property assessments down through tax appeals, dedicated funding for public libraries has fallen throughout the State, including Kearny. This year’s dedicated tax revenue for Kearny’s public library was $1,130,800, about $85,000 less than 2011. Combined with reductions in State aid, this poses a challenge for our library. However, it is a temporary one. In the recent recession we learned that property values do not always go up. The converse is also true. Stabilization and improvement in property values will eventually result in higher amounts for dedicated library funding. With the knowledge, dedication and management skills of our Library Director, staff, and Board of Trustees, and with the support of the Friends of the Library, I am confident that the financial challenge will be met.
The second challenge goes to the very heart of a public library’s mission. What is a public library for in a world of data? We all use our mobile devices and tablet computers anywhere and anytime. Our mobile devices provide us instant access to data, from rare historical collections to real time access to noteworthy events around the globe as they occur. This new world of data has shifted the role of all libraries from one that focused principally on the library as a storehouse of books that we share in the community, to one in which librarians must now help aggregate and organize the world of data available at our fingertips.
That digital revolution took another great leap forward in the past five years with the tremendous growth of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, which have served as a means to connect people and share information rapidly to very large populations, facilitating activism, democracy and the growth of movements. Through social networks, all of us can engage in discussions with persons anywhere in the world. This is a very powerful tool. Just two years ago, through Facebook and Twitter, residents of dictatorial Tunisia and around the world learned about Mohamed Bouazizi, an operator of a vegetable cart in the small town of Sidi Bouzid whose cart – his livelihood – had been confiscated by local authorities; they learned of his humiliation by the local authorities when he sought his cart back and of his self-immolation. Social networking not only rapidly disseminated knowledge of this event but also enabled Tunisians to organize a democracy movement that would spread through North Africa and the Middle East, toppling or attempting to topple decades of dictatorship, in what we now call the Arab Spring.
Another case study is the Gangnam Style music video by South Korean artist Psy which is now the most watched video on You Tube with over 825 million views as of today. While amusing to watch and imitate, it is now also being used as tool for human rights and democracy in China by the Chinese artist and political activist Ai Wei Wei. He is a passionate advocate for human rights – for free speech and democracy in China – and has spoken out against government corruption, which has led to his harassment by the authorities and his arrest last year. Ai Wei Wei did a Gangnam Style parody, adopting similar dance moves but with a pair of handcuffs dangling from his wrists. The video was immediately censored by the authorities. But through social media and You Tube, and with the support of fellow artists around the world like Anish Kapoor, a “Gangnam Freedom” movement has emerged, where parodies of the video become a powerful tool to criticize censors and the infringement of basic human rights in China.
In this world of data and social networking, I believe a community library can be the platform to engage in events anywhere around the world, from the Middle East to China, as well as here in Kearny. Through technology, the library can serve as a portal to community, national and world events where Kearny residents can meet, engage in library programs and group discussions with others here at the Kearny library but also with others around the world through social networking, You Tube and the web. The librarian and his staff take on the roles of connector and facilitator, literally turning the world of data into action for our town’s residents. The goal of the library in connecting data with the community and facilitating our community’s engagement with others globally is to expand the knowledge of our community’s residents, which was the founding principle of public libraries built with funding from Andrew Carnegie, including the Kearny Free Public Library, over a century ago.
So, in response to my earlier question of ‘what is a library for in a world of data?’, I submit the answer lies in the historical mission of the Kearny Public Library, which, from its very beginning, has been to provide an accessible forum – or what can be better described as a community space – for all people in our town to learn and explore new ideas by interacting with each other. Since its founding over a century ago, our library has remained not only relevant but critical to the advancement of our community by continuing to provide the location in which we come together and learn from and with each other, and by continuing to promote programs that foster learning, intercultural appreciation and civic-mindedness. The world of data and social networking vastly expands who we can interact with and the information available to us, but members of our community still need a place to interact and learn from each other – a community space that connects us to citizens from around the world and facilitates engagement with others and expands our community’s knowledge. By doing so, we will strengthen our library’s longstanding mission as a learning community space and continue the work of all the librarians, library trustees, government officials and concerned citizens who have presided over our library during the past one hundred six years. Thank you and enjoy the rest of the evening.