The Friends of the Broome County Public Library raised $70,000 in 2015.
Katie Sullivan / Staff Video

Step inside the Broome County Public Library in Binghamton on any given day and you’ll find it’s bustling with activity: there are children practicing science experiments, one group of adults coloring at long tables, another holding a video conference in a room nearby.

They’re some of the 295,000 visitors who passed through the doors to the 72,000-square-foot library in 2016 — 100,000 more than did the same at the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena in the same year, according to the Court Street library’s annual report — and take part in its 468 programs for children, teens and adults.

But without a special group called the Friends, they couldn’t do it.

In recent years, the library, which opened in 2000 — a move from the former 23,000-square-foot Carnegie Library on Court Street — has seen its staff cut in half, from 47 to 23 people, director Lisa Wise said, and budget cuts have ranged from 5-10 percent annually.

Meanwhile, in 2015 the Friends of the Broome County Public Library, a community group of about 100 men and women — many retired educators — who help support its mission and programs handed the library $70,000.

“Without the Friends we couldn’t do the programs we want to do,” Wise said.

From garden party to necessity

Friends started 50 years ago as what Wise calls a “garden party-type” group; 10 to 12 women who went on tours and trips together in 1967, united by an appreciation for their public library.

Now they’re a major resource for the library.

“In the past 12 years the Friends have become a financial support,” said Debbie Catron, Friends board president.

Money raised by the Friends of the Broome County Public Library funds programs not covered by the regular budget, such as the summer reading program, adult yoga classes and early literacy stations for children.

There’s also the $20,000 spent on audiovisual equipment in the multimedia Decker Room, another $20,000 to replace an outdated microfilm reader, book reader and computers, as well as the library’s reading garden.

“They’re a tremendous resource for the library,” Shiel said.

Where does the money come from?

Around eight times a year, crowds of people rush to the library to pick up hardcover and paperback books for a dollar or less. Some of them have this date marked on their calendar, 100 will line up hours before the library opens, eager to restock their home library shelves with titles they’ve always wanted to…