Libraries seek funding

The Southeast Library might remain open, pending a funding request from the library board.

by Charley Bruce

Southeast Community Library has been on death row, but a last minute pardon might save it.

The Minneapolis Public Library Board’s Finance Committee met Wednesday night at Northeast Community Library. It passed a resolution requesting more money from the Minneapolis City Council to keep all 15 libraries open, instead of shuttering three.

The motion means the board will delay the final decision on its $22 million budget until the City Council adopts its own budget on Dec. 11.

Board President Anita Duckor moved to ask the Council for $536,626 to keep all libraries open for 40 hours per week. Southeast, located along Fourth Street in Dinkytown, is currently open for 24 hours per week.

This would be in addition to the $250,000 in annual funding passed by the city’s Ways and Means Committee on Nov. 29.

The motion also asked for a minimum of $105,000 to ensure Southeast, Weber Park and Roosevelt community libraries remain open four days a week, five hours per day.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Diane Hofstede, who represents part of the University area, delivered a passionate speech to the Board, asking each member to vote against any measure that would close a library.

She said that after 20 years on the Library Board, “this is the most positive atmosphere for funding.”

“Libraries make this city whole,” and closing libraries would be a “scar” on the city, Hofstede said.

If it proceeds with closures, the Board won’t be remembered for opening the new, $110 million Central Library, but rather as the Board that closed libraries, Hofstede said.

She ended by saying she wanted to “send a clear message to everybody in our community to keep our libraries open,” which drew loud applause, whistles and cheers.

Jan Morse, an employee in the University’s Student Conflict Resolution Center and a Marcy-Holmes neighborhood resident, said she gets all of her books from Southeast.

She said she goes there because she enjoys the nonfiction books she can find there.

A library is important to any community, Morse said.

“I always see neighbors there,” she said.

Morse said if the library is shuttered it could lead to graffiti, and the visibility would reflect poorly on the community.

Andy Kozak, a lobbyist for the Minneapolis libraries, said libraries have support in both houses of the Minnesota Legislature. DFL majorities in the House and Senate – for the first time since 1998 – should help, he said.

“The election was very helpful to us,” he said.

But there are constraints on the help the Legislature can provide, Kozak said.

The projected state budget surplus of $2.17 billion doesn’t account for inflation, which will chip away at the total, he said. And libraries will compete with other budget priorities, from higher education to property-tax relief, for money.

Kozak said local government aid will be addressed after these headliner issues.

In 2006, local government aid made up 31 percent of the library’s operating budget, down 13 percent from 2004. The aid also funds the fire and police departments.

Some suggest using regional funding from Hennepin County or the state to keep all libraries open. But to get this funding, the library system must be seen as a regional resource.

Colin Hamilton, executive director of the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Libraries, said there are 310,000 registered library patrons, but 20 percent of them are not Minneapolis residents.

He said Central Library’s collection boasts twice the number of unique titles of any other Minnesota library.

A patron “can find things within the (Minneapolis) libraries no one else has,” Hamilton said.

Carol Becker, vice president of the Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation, said she needs another chance to try and create a long-term funding solution for the library.

If the libraries are shuttered she won’t get that chance, Becker said.

Kathleen Reilly, chairwoman of the Southeast Library Taskforce, said, despite the lack of money, the issue has never pitted one library against another, but rather collectively rallied for funding.

Reilly said she wants to save all the libraries on the chopping block – not just Southeast.

“I want the Minneapolis Library Board to make the tough choice and keep all the community libraries open,” said Reilly to an applauding crowd.

Eric Heideman, Southeast’s head librarian, said if the Board spares any library, it is a victory for Minneapolis.

He said “things are still in play because the people of Minneapolis have spoken out clearly and steadily.”