Minneapolis Mayor Reveals Plans to Shut, Open Branches

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is eager to reform the Minneapolis Library system budget, but library officials are unsure that his plan will provide thorough or lasting solutions to a long-running funding problem.

The mayor’s plan will shut down three branches and reduce hours at the Central Library, saving $1.1 million. Rybak says these funds will allow him to re-open two other branches that have been closed for repairs and will allow all branches to be open five days a week. Many branches now are open only three days a week.

But Library Director Kit Hadley considers Rybak’s plan short-sighted, and she worries that the budget will not be able to sustain the reopened branches and increased hours. She believes the plan will “worsen the library’s long-term financial picture.”

“Not to mention what it does to real human beings,” adds Hadley. She argues that it would be “cruel” to hire librarians when the board has no assurance that the next year’s budget can sustain the new positions. Should the plan fail, says Hadley, it might undermine morale in a district that has already suffered layoffs of 30% of the library staff.

Mayor Rybak admits that his solution is short-term. He and a new library advisory group are exploring long-term initiatives that will complement his short-term reform.

Rybak says the budget woes began in 2000, when the citizens of Minneapolis voted for a property tax that would raise funds to build the $125 million Central Library. Rybak says the tax was unrealistic because it did not consider operating costs after construction.

The situation is has come to a crisis, says Rybak: “the city cannot support the Central Library and the library system together.”