New York — America's public libraries, some in deep financial trouble, are looking for new, creative ways to get some of the red ink off their books.
Antiquated buildings, the enormous job of maintaining and cataloging growing collections, and, above all, the economic pinch on city budgets have forced many libraries to cut staffs and curb hours and services.
But these same problems are prompting some officials and patrons to find unconventional ways to raise funds and maintain services. As a result, a growing number of libraries are tapping a wealth of previously ignored community resources.
Consider, for instance, the tiny library in Shirley, N.Y. Several years ago, it was on the brink of closing. But last year hundreds of volunteers went from door to door in this Long Island community of 35,000, successfully lobbying for a property-tax bond issue to build a new 19,600 square-foot library. Now located in a busy shopping center, the library has become a showplace of sorts in the largely blue-collar community. It operates as a bustling after-school learning center, and Shirley real estate brokers take prospective homeowners by the library to show them the community's stability and potential prosperity.
''Times are pretty rough for many libraries across the country,'' says Margaret Barber, a spokesman for the American Library Association in Chicago. ''But there are a growing number of bright spots. Yet it's a battle for every bright spot.''
Things being done in other cities:
* In Oklahoma City, 600 volunteers recently telephoned 20,000 households in a successful effort to increase the percentage of money the library collects from real estate taxes. Voters in Columbus, Ohio voted overwhelmingly to approve a new library tax.
* In Dallas, ''Friends of the Library'' literally collected pennies, nickels, and dimes - and in several cases, private gifts of more than $1 million - for the construction of a new library, which has just opened.
* Other libraries have found that charging entrance fees for non-residents is a good way to raise badly-needed revenue, even though this policy erodes the time-honored tradition of the ''free library.'' The Denver Public Library charges non-residents $10 per visit. The New York Public Library and many others have increased overdue book fees but find that collecting these fees is difficult.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony here this week, the New York Public Library launched a $10.1 million rebuilding program. The agenda includes restoring areas of the library's Beaux Arts Central Research Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, as well as rebuilding branch library collections in the city's other boroughs. In addition, New York Public Library officials say they hope that by the end of the year the Central Research Library once again will be open six days a week. It has been closed Thurdays for the past several years because of budget cuts.
A rebuilding program of this magnitude would not have been possible if library officials hadn't worked assiduously to get the city to contribute - for the first time in nearly 20 years - to the Central Research Library's capital needs. The city will provide nearly half of the $10.1 million for the rebuilding program.
But city officials agreed to tap tight city coffers only after they were convinced the private sector had done all it could to raise the money.
Many other cities, however, don't have the money to chip in - regardless of how much the private sector donates.