Hartford Library Board Reviews Options For Reopening 2 Branches
By STEVEN GOODE | Courant Staff Writer
July 26, 2008
Hartford Public Library board members met Friday morning to discuss several cost-savings options that could lead to the reopening of two neighborhood branches closed earlier this month due to an $870,000 budget gap.
The Blue Hills Avenue and Mark Twain branches were shuttered July 3 and 40 employees were laid off after the city reduced its roughly $9 million spending proposal to about $8.2 million. The closings saved the library about $530,000, but upset residents in the neighborhoods and led to the temporary filing of a lawsuit in an attempt to have them reopened.
Chief Librarian Louise Blalock presented the board Friday with the option of reopening the branches by having all nine of the city's neighborhood libraries stay open for just three days a week, which would have a net cost on the system of $200,000.
Or, Blalock said, the board could decide to reinstate children's programming from the two closed branches and move it to Rawson School and the Asylum Hill Boys & Girls Club, respectively, at a total cost of about $300,000.
Both proposals would still result in a need for further layoffs and reduced programming across the remaining seven branches and main library to close the budget gap unless additional funds were found.
Aside from funding, the options Blalock put forth carry other downsides, she said.
Generally, staggering days that branches are open could have a detrimental effect on literacy and tutoring programs that require sustained learning, she said. Overall visitation at the branches could suffer, as well, she said, because residents who aren't sure when a library is open aren't as likely to go out of their way to patronize them.
Board President Geraldine Sullivan said Friday that residents at a rally to reopen the branches Thursday night made it clear that they did not want to access library services off site, and using Rawson School and the Asylum Hills site would have to be approved by the Hartford Board of Education and the Hartford Boys & Girls Club.
Several board members referred to the proposals as "band-aids."
"We can't grow the endowment fast enough, and we can't squeeze any more earnings from it," board member William Large said. "Next year, we're going to have to close another branch or two."
Large said the reality is that the city is just not going to fund the library the way it should.
"Maybe there's no political will, maybe the mayor just doesn't like the library. I don't know," Large said.
But Large and other board members expressed interest in Blalock's suggestion to create special taxing districts in neighborhoods as a long-term solution to funding cutbacks.
"That's stable funding that goes on forever," Large said.
In the end, the board decided against taking a vote on either proposal. Instead it will wait to hear from Blalock about the feasibility of closing all of the branches, including the main library, for one day a week, wait for City Auditor Patrick Campbell to complete an audit of the library's budget to see whether there is a potential for savings by combining some operations with other city departments and wait for the next city council meeting Aug. 11 to see whether more funding will be approved.
Sullivan said she did not have much faith that the last option was a realistic one, and her opinion was confirmed by Sarah Barr, Mayor Eddie A. Perez's spokeswoman, Friday afternoon.
"There is no additional money," Barr said in an e-mail.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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