Proposed budget cuts at the Hennepin County Library could spell the end of INFORM, a 38-year-old, fee-based professional research service that brings in $250,000 a year. In an e-mail to clients today, Manager Ted Hathaway called INFORM an “easy target in this budget-cutting process” because its fees ($50–70 per hour) don’t cover all its costs, which include paying three professional and two paraprofessional researchers.
The county is considering cuts to as many as 51 staff positions to help close a $2.5 million budget gap. Joining INFORM on the chopping block are bookmobile and at-home services, a teen intern program, and the downtown government documents desk, but officials say the budget remains a work in progress.
Founded with federal funds as a part of a joint Minneapolis/St. Paul/University of Minnesota effort called “Information for Minnesota,” INFORM filled a gap left by the 1960s closure of the Minneapolis Public Library’s downtown business branch. Law and engineering firms needing reliable research form a core client base, even after the advent of online research tools cut into INFORM’s business. INFORM provides a solid alternative to often “squishy” information on the Web, Hathaway said.
Hennepin County absorbed the Minneapolis Public Library this year after the Minnesota Legislature let the city dissolve its library and board of trustees without a referendum. The county’s 2008 budget counts INFORM among its sources of “enterprise revenues” estimated at $1 million, alongside other revenue streams such as fines (estimated at $1.6 million) and other miscellaneous sources ($1.1 million). A new fee structure and service scope earlier this decade saw a 150 percent increase in revenue over three years. But as a profit center, INFORM is an outlier at an institution that Hathaway said is set up to provide free library services.
Hathaway referred questions about library finances, staffing and budget decisions to a spokesperson who hadn’t yet returned a call when this item was posted.