Libraries stay open in limited form
All Mecklenburg County libraries will be staying open at least until the end of June. The library trustees voted today to reverse their decision to cut $2 million from the budget by closing 12 branches. Instead, all libraries will close two days a week and operate 8 hours a day. That includes the main library Uptown. Those cuts will go into effect April 5. In this segment, WFAE's Lisa Miller talks to All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey about the board's decision. Mark: Lisa, why didn't trustees consider this last week when County Manager Harry Jones first told them $2 million was going to be cut? Still Open All Mecklenburg County libraries will stay open at least until the end of June. Read Listen Lisa: I heard that question from library users for the past week. 'Why not just reduce hours everywhere instead of closing half the branches?' Enough people asked that, it got the library's attention. Here's Libraries Director Charles Brown explanation at the beginning of today's meeting: "We were trying to maintain the highest quality possible service at least in some areas of Mecklenburg County . But we heard from the community they want to preserve locations. They want that very convenient access. So we're exploring another strategy to preserve locations, but there will need to be cuts and service hours to accomplish this. There are no easy tradeoffs." Lisa: In addition to restricting hours and days of operation, the library is going to lay off 84 people - and all remaining employees are taking salary cuts between 5 and 20 percent. There aren't going to be many new books coming in or programs like story-time and after-school activities. As one library trustee said, "the pain is going to be spread out." And that's true. Mark: This news about the budget took a lot of people by surprise. Why didn't we hear anything about this before last week? Lisa: Well, library trustees knew for almost two months that cuts were coming, although they say they didn't expect it to be this much and they thought it would be spread out over four months instead of three. They had already been discussing closing four branches, but a formal vote hadn't been taken. I asked the chair of the library board Robin Branstrom why we didn't hear about this plan earlier. This was her response: BRANSTROM: Well it was public record in the meetings. (So you're putting it on the media?) BRANSTROM: Well, it's public record. Our meetings are open in public record. Lisa: She's right, but I can tell you library board meetings aren't at the top of most reporters' lists unless something big like this is happening. Mark: So let me get this straight. They opened the Hickory Grove branch library February 9th. So even then they were looking at closing four branches. Lisa: We're not sure exactly when they first looked at closing four branches, but we do know they were told of the potential cuts on February 4th. Mark: So how likely is it that all the branches are going to stay open after June? Lisa: No one's really sure. The library board depends on Mecklenburg County for its budget and the county is looking at an 85-million dollar budget gap next year. The county manager has sent out a loose list of possible cuts. Under that scenario, the library would take a $17 million hit. That's half its budget. However, county commissioners could choose not to cut all that money from the libraries. Mark: What's going to happen to the $200,000 in donations that have come in over the last week? Is that helping to keep branches open? Lisa: The new budget figures that money in. So yes, it is going toward keeping branches open. If more money comes in before April 5th, Brown says it'll allow the library to keep a few more employees. He says donations would also help the library buy more books since with this plan that money has essentially been gutted.