Last fiscal year, the libraries operated on $935,000 from the city, plus $88,000 in state aid. This fiscal year, which began July 1, the library will receive $281,666.64, about a third of what the library board requested, according to a letter Redd sent to the library's board of trustees last week. Part of that money, about $20,000, was already spent last fiscal year.
In addition, since the libraries cannot remain open five days a week on such limited funds, they will not have enough operating hours to be eligible for state aid, the board said.
In all, that makes for a reduction in funding of nearly 75 percent. The city will continue to foot the bill for employees' health insurance, but it is unclear how many employees will be left.
"During difficult economic times, this administration has to make tough but necessary decisions to find cost-saving measures to balance a budget that will benefit Camden taxpayers," Redd said in a statement.
City Council would have to vote to approve the final city budget containing the cut. Council President Frank Moran did not return a call for comment.
The library board discussed the budget cuts, which affect the fiscal year that began July 1, during a closed session Monday.
Afterward, library director Jerry Szpila said the system would start to absorb the cuts by closing every Friday for a year beginning in September. The library's 21 employees would be furloughed those days. No other cost-saving decisions were made.
Libraries in Camden, which have operated continuously since 1905, serve a different function from libraries in the suburbs. Patrons said the library is a place where poor people can do something productive, free - an alternative to being home or on the street.
There were more than 150,000 visits last year to the three branches, which host chess tournaments, literacy programs run by volunteers, and tax-filing assistance programs.
The Centerville branch was built with $4 million in county funds, and when it opened in 2005 it was intended as the centerpiece of a revitalized neighborhood.
On Monday, the New Jersey Judiciary announced a training program for librarians to help them assist patrons with legal information and court resources.
That could be particularly helpful in Camden, where the main library branch is on Federal Street between the Camden County jail and courthouse.
"For the city to be the kind of city they want it to be . . . you don't get rid of education, you put as much money into education as you can," said Curtis Williams, 34, who comes to the library every day to read Christian-themed fiction.
Sitting under a framed copy of the Constitution, Williams said libraries are needed "if you want to live in a civilized society."
In the children's section Monday, two children read quietly by themselves and three teenagers played Monopoly.
By the front windows, there were three games of chess going on - every day, adults said, they teach Camden teenagers the game. And in the back, all of the approximately dozen computers were in use, mostly by young people.
"I know it's going to affect children, even if it's just to encourage children to read for pleasure," said Jose Delgado, a former Camden school board member. "If a kid has a paper [for school], what's he going to do if he doesn't have a computer at home? I guess write out reports. I don't know."
In Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter faced protests and a political crisis in 2008 when he unsuccessfully tried to save money by closing 11 library branches. And last week, he announced that despite previous threats, he would not cut branch schedules or lay off library employees in the fiscal 2011 budget.
In New Jersey, Gov. Christie is reducing state funding for libraries by $6 million, a 43 percent drop, but less than the 74 percent cut originally proposed.
"Politicians have robbed people for years," said Shane Streater, 35, a chess player at the library. "It's not the people's fault, it's the politicians who left Camden high and dry."
Contact staff writer Matt Katz at 856-779-3919 or firstname.lastname@example.org.