The library: A first stop on the road to recovery

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The St. Paul Public Library system will be doing more to help Minnesotans find work and prepare for careers in the coming year even though budget cuts are shortening the hours the libraries will be open to serve the public.

Minnesota 2020 has saluted public libraries from time to time as essential locations for information and computer access for people especially harmed by the economic downturn of the Great Recession and the weak economy that followed. Recent announcements from the Otto Bremer Foundation and from the St. Paul libraries show neither need for such services nor problems with funding and staffing these services have gone away even though we are technically in a period of economic recovery.

The good news from the Bremer foundation came Dec. 18 when it said it granted $468,000 to Friends of the St. Paul Library to help the public libraries with career search and computer literacy classes in foreign languages. Frederick Melo, writing in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, said the computer instructors and job searrch mentors will have Spanish, Somali, Hmong, Karen, Amharic and Oromo language skills to work with the mostly new residents entering the workforce.

Unfortunately, Melo also reported on how St. Paul libraries are cutting staffing through attrition and will reduce library hours by 34 hours per week to cope with a projected $600,000 budget shortfall in 2012.

While an excellent example of changing to support the needs of a community, this story also demonstrates how diminishing public support for libraries has them turning to the nonprofit sector to fill revenue voids.