Final chapter for local library?

Budget issues may lead to reduced hours and programs for Minneapolis libraries.

Charley Bruce

For the second time since 2003, the Minneapolis Library Board is considering closing the Southeast Community Library to free up operating funds for other libraries.

The library, which serves the University community and surrounding neighborhoods at Fourth Street and 13th Avenue Southeast, was one of several smaller libraries named for possible closure at an Aug. 23 library board meeting.

The Library Board of Trustees is outlining its 2007 budget and three-year budget plan, said Kit Hadley, Minneapolis Public Libraries director.

“It’s going to require cutbacks in either libraries or hours (the libraries are) open,” she said.

Hadley said the board and trustees are trying to deliver the best possible library system, but the budget was hit hard in 2003 by cuts to local government aid and state funding for cities’ general use.

The library depends on government aid for funding, Hadley said. Minneapolis determines how to fund libraries and how much they receive. The libraries then try to make the best use of available funds, she said.

The board considered five budget scenarios at the meeting. Four involved closing Southeast and other libraries, and all minimally required cutting library hours and days.

The library board will hold five community meetings in September, Hadley said, as well as four focus groups, online public discussions and both print and online surveys.

“We’re really seeking input from the community,” Hadley said.

The board likely will make the final budget decision by the second meeting in October, she said.

Colin Hamilton, director of Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library, explained why Southeast is again on the chopping block.

“I think the focus (of how to cut libraries) has been on smaller, unrenovated libraries, and Southeast fits this description,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said one option would be to “mothball” the library: close the building but retain ownership in hopes the funding situation changes.

“I think, realistically, people are not very optimistic that the funding picture is going to change,” he said.

Kathleen Reilly, chairwoman of the Southeast Library Taskforce, said there is a general idea that once a library is closed it won’t be reopened.

“My greatest fear is we’ll be a kiosk in the back of Lunds (grocery store),” she said.

In 2000, a referendum allocating $140 million to the library system passed with the support of 68 percent of Minneapolis voters. The money went to building the new central library and other capital improvements, such as renovations to community libraries.

“Now we have capital money, but none to turn the lights on or pay staff,” Reilly said.

This isn’t the first time the library has faced closure.

Head Librarian Eric Heideman, who has worked at the library for eight years, said the board considered closing the library in the 1980s, 2003 and now.

“It’s definitely a breach of faith,” Heideman said.

In 2003 the board decided against closing libraries because of public support at meetings, Heideman said. He said he thought it was the right decision.

“This is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Minnesota,” Heideman said, with patrons “from China, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Somalia (and other countries).”

Heideman estimated about a third of the patrons are University faculty and students. The rest are elderly people from the neighborhood who read newspapers and magazines, or young adults with families.

The local population, he said, “really needs a public library.” For instance, he said the Heart of the Earth Charter School, located across Fourth Street Southeast, uses the library’s resources.

Many patrons are drawn to the library by its vast selection of books on American history, popular science, or the sci-fi and fantasy collections, Heideman said.

“We also have the second-best collection of jazz CDs,” he said. “We have about 200.”

Heideman encouraged students and neighborhood residents to publicize the issue by writing to the library board, the City Council and the mayor.

He said he’ll try to save the library and the collections he helped improve as he did in 2003.

“I will stand on the deck of the ship and try to keep it afloat,” Heideman said.