Great libraries for Minneapolis

Earlier this month, the Minneapolis Public Library Board proposed three library budget for 2004. All three advocate the reduction in library services, and two suggest the closing of several branch libraries. Either way, Minneapolis will be forced to make painful cuts in its libraries’ services.

Of the three scenarios, only Scenario “A” would not close any branch libraries; however, it would cut various library programs. Scenario “B” would close five branch libraries and sacrifice no programs. Scenario “C” would close three branch libraries while reducing library operating hours at many branches.

These proposed cuts in service do not bode well for Minneapolis’ civic culture, considering Minneapolis already ranks behind comparable cities in the library services it provides.

For instance, in 2003, Boston, Atlanta and Seattle all budgeted more dollars per capita for library operating and capital expenses than Minneapolis. Minneapolis is also behind in library presence. While Boston, Atlanta, Denver and Seattle all have more than four libraries per 100,000 people, Minneapolis provides only 3.9 libraries per 100,000 people. If Minneapolitans want to continue to consider themselves an above-average class of literate and civic-minded urbanites, the Minneapolis library system will have to be given the resources in the future to equal or better these other cities’ library systems.

In addition, several cost-saving measures not mentioned in any of the three budget scenarios should be considered in an effort to maintain an already less-than-exceptional system. For example, Seattle is planning to close some branches during weeks of minimal use in order to save money. Also, the Minneapolis library board could defray costs by allowing the construction of corporate-sponsored learning centers and considering the controversial act of selling naming rights.

Minneapolis libraries provide a communal space of learning and a sanctuary from urban pressures. Libraries are the cornerstones of well-educated and progressive communities. The Minneapolis library board and the city must do everything possible to maintain and improve the integrity of its public libraries now and in the future.