Library officials consider other options to prevent closings
Clarification appended Mecklenburg County library officials are taking a new tact to cutting $2 million from the library's budget. They're looking at slashing services, re-directing money and reducing salaries to keep some library branches from closing on April 3rd. WFAE's Lisa Miller reports. Libraries Director Charles Brown says he's been scouring the budget to figure out what it would take to keep some or all of the twelve libraries open after losing the county money. Re-directing funds meant to buy books and pay for programs like children's story time and after-school activities is one option. "We'll be looking at every internal alternative we can come up within the libraries existing budget," explains Brown. "One of the things we have not done in the past was a total elimination of our materials budget and also meeting with some of our major book venders to see if some funds that have already been encumbered for things we've orderedif we can get any money back." Brown says reducing salaries system-wide and cutting support staff could also be alternatives to closing libraries. But 148 layoff notices have already gone out and 12 libraries are beginning to wind down operations. At Independence Regional library in east Charlotte yesterday morning, 16 kids were wrapping up what could be their last story hour. Story-time leader Melanie Lewis hugged the kids before they left. She held-back tears as mothers told her how much their children would miss story-hour. "Thanks you so much, I didn't cry all weekend and as soon as got here, I was like, 'oh,'" says Lewis. She expects this will be her last week on the job. After class she took her post at the help desk, pointed people to books, and explained to patrons which libraries may close. In the afternoon, East Meck high school students began making the daily trek across the street to the library. About a dozen of them gathered at the corner in the drizzle to protest the closures. "Save the library," they shouted. East Meck Junior Carlos Alexander commiserated with a few friends. He wondered how he would adjust his after-school routine. Alexander doesn't have a computer at home and the school library shuts shortly after the school day ends. "I come here everyday, everyday and get on the computers," says Alexander. "If I want to get away from the house this is where I go until it closes at 9 o'clock." "It's better than hanging out on the street," says one girl. "Very much so," agrees Alexander. Inside Independence Regional, County Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts was meeting with library patrons and fielding more frustration than straight-out questions. Just six weeks ago she presided over a very different library event, the opening of the new Hickory Grove branch. Roberts told the crowd then: "We are so happy that the east side, the Hickory Grove area has their own wonderful renovated new fabulous place!" That branch is one of the 12 the library board decided to close last week. Independence regular Estelle Spike told Roberts what she thought of that. "I'm very embarrassed because to hear the budget somehow put in a $15 million library that they're going to close a month after they open it," Spike complained. The Hickory Grove library actually cost $5 million to build, but the point wasn't lost on Roberts. "I'm going to do everything I can to keep Hickory Grove open because that is like the poster child for what you said bad planning in terms of a brand new facility, state of the art, energy-efficient and all that in an underserved community that has been waiting for years," promised Roberts. She told the group closing 12 libraries is a worst-case scenario and the decision was made in haste. Tomorrow morning library trustees are expected to make their final decision on whether there's enough give elsewhere in the library budget to keep some or all the branches open through the end of June. The library system is facing the possibility of even deeper cuts after that. Clarification: A shorter version of this story that aired Monday at 5:30 p.m. said Libraries Director Charles Brown was looking at using "emergency funds" to keep libraries open. That was the phrasing Brown used in speaking to reporter Lisa Miller. He later clarified that he misspoke. What he should have said, as this story reflects, is that money may be redirected from budgets dedicated to books and programs at library branches.