Community libraries face uncertain future


As the public discusses the future of the Minneapolis Public Library system, many say cuts are undesirable but seem inevitable.

Public support staved off a round of library closings in 2003. With more closings in the air, the library board has had public discussions, hosted online chat groups and handed out surveys, but the libraries’ fates still are uncertain.

Kit Hadley, director of Minneapolis Public Libraries, said she has been struck by the passion people have had for their libraries.

A conference room in the downtown Central Library was filled Thursday with 40 to 50 people concerned with the future of Minneapolis community libraries.

The statements people have made about the importance of libraries to them, their families and to democracy has been moving, Hadley said.

But despite all this, the libraries are in trouble. Two of three plans to solve the library’s budget issues require closing community libraries.

Southeast could close
The Southeast Community Library, at Fourth Street and 13th Avenue Southeast, would be closed in both plans.

University sophomore Jane Riley uses the library for music. Riley said Friday she has been coming to the Southeast Library since seventh grade.

“This is a ‘dinky town,’ and all towns should have a library,” she said.

One plan involves keeping all libraries open part-time. Another would close 10 libraries and have the others open at least six days a week. The last would close three libraries and keep the remaining libraries open five days a week.

Much of the problem has been attributed to a lack of local government aid.

Local government aid is money the state allocates to cities; in Minneapolis, the funds go to police, fire departments, parks and libraries.

“The world got turned upside-down when the governor and Legislature cut the (local government aid) in 2003 for calendar 2004,” Hadley said.

At the time, local government aid accounted for 43 percent of the library system’s operating budget, but has since been reduced, she said.

As a result, Minneapolis Public Libraries cut 25 percent of its staff and reduced operating hours by 35 percent, Hadley said.

The 2005 library budget relied on local government aid for 33 percent of its funding. In 2006, aid accounted for 31 percent.

Property taxes accounted for 61 percent of the budget in 2005; in 2006, it was 62 percent.

The remainder comes from private donations, state grants and library fees.

The operating budget for 2006 was $20.5 million, down $500,000 from the previous year.

The library’s aid funding has been cut by almost $3 million since 2003.

Too big for one bite
Carol Becker, vice president of the Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation, said the city has been using levies to get funding.

A levy is a tax for a specific purpose, like parks, public housing and libraries, she said.

For the past several years there has been an 8 percent levy cap, Becker said.

Becker said she believes the funding problem is too large to be solved from one income source, calling it an “elephant” that can’t be eaten in “one bite.”

Hennepin County could fund the library as a regional resource, he said, since non-Minneapolis residents can use its resources, much like a regional park.

Libraries could also form partnerships with the school system, Becker said.

Part of the community
Colin Dsouza, an electrical engineering graduate student said he comes to the library to get personal reading materials.

“I wouldn’t read as much if it weren’t here,” he said as he glanced through a Spanish language book.

Sarah Graveley graduated from the University in 2002, but still makes the trip from south Minneapolis to the library to get personal reading materials.

“You’re a part of the community here,” she said.