Library closings may be just the beginningby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis, Minn. — The controversial budget plan was approved by six reluctant "yes" votes over two against. There was a sober pause following the roll call.
"Indeed it is a sad day. A sad night," Board President Anita Duckor said. "But I do truly feel that we did the fiscally responsible decision."
The Library Board was facing the reality that it would not have the resources to maintain all of its 15 libraries in 2007. Earlier this year they developed three different budget scenarios that ranged from keeping all libraries open, but with some branches open only three days a week -- to closing 10 branches and keeping the remaining open 6 or 7 days a week.
The plan that passed calls for permanently closing the Webber Park, Roosevelt and Southeast branches and closing the Central Library on Mondays. Under the plan the board will avoid layoffs and at the same time extend hours in the remaining 12 branches. Those libraries will be open five days a week, from Tuesday through Saturday.
But that's no consolation the staff and patrons of the Webber Park branch in North Minneapolis.
"I worry about those kids who won't have an option like Webber Park."
Barbara Elg, the branch manager of the Webber Park Library, says her patrons come from a wide range of ages and ethnicities. School children come to the library to work on homework and talk about books, says Elg. Today the library closes at 3 o'clock. But Elg still is planning a book club meeting at 3:30.
Elg is talking with 9th grader My Koo Vang. Vang is the first of the group to show up. She and the other students are reading a book called "Hoot." It's a story about a group of young kids who fight the system to save a family of endangered owls. Vang says its unfair that the library she and her younger siblings use will close. And she says the next closest library, the North Regional Library, is a little too far away. And it's not a safe walk from where she lives.
"Usually people come here to print stuff and find resources for their projects. Or else they just come here to hang out and it's already a safe place. Safer than being outside -- danger and stuff," Vang says.
Library Board officials say one of the reasons Webber Park will be closed is because it is too small to provide some of the public meeting space and services the larger libraries can. But Barbara Elg says there are advantages of being small. She says the library costs a lot less than other branches to operate; her operating budget is about $200,000 a year. And she also says patrons feel more comfortable here than in the big libraries.
"The smaller, intimate setting allows small children and other people to feel, not overwhelmed and to explore the library more freely. Parents can kind of let their kids go and really be part of the library in whatever way they decide. That's kind of cool," she says.
Library board members fear that this round of closings may be repeated in the near future if they cannot find a sustainable long-term funding solution. The board relies heavily on state aid to the city, which has declined sharply over the last several years. Some trustees have expressed a desire to change the funding formula.
Some blame the $110 million capital referendum that raised money to build the new Central Branch and renovate others, but did not raise money for operating expenses.
Library Board President Anita Duckor says whatever they decide to do, it needs to be done soon.
"We think we're thinking three libraries closing are terrible. We will be looking at six to eight within three years if we do not find additional long-term funding source or mechanisms or partner or whatever we want to call it," according to Duckor.
The Minneapolis City Council, which, at times, has had a less-than-cordial relationship with the library board, is expressing a desire to help. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak recently proposed a one-time payment of $1.1 million to help the library get through 2007. And as city budget talks continue, library board members hope that maybe Rybak can find additional money that can be dedicated to balancing future library budgets.
- Morning Edition, 10/26/2006, 7:21 a.m.