As Librarians, Libraries Become "Endangered Species," Mary Suhm Talks Proposed Cuts

City Manager Mary Suhm and I spoke a few days about about how she's trying to find $131.1 million to excise out of the FY2010-'11 budget, which she'll present to council upon its return from summer vacay in August. And so, while the council takes its summer break and Suhm goes off to find quarters in the couch -- or, more likely, silver dollars -- we'll bite off bits and pieces. Today, then: libraries.

As she told council Wednesday, she wants to keep the neighborhood branches open at their current hours. And, she wants to make sure the downtown library is open at least 40 hours a week, which will be down from 44 hours (though there is buried within the latest budget presentation a proposal to keep the downtown location open a mere 24 hours a week). A 40-hour workweek at the central branch, however, will result in "limited access to subject floors," like, oh the Texas/Dallas History & Archives Division, which is already closed Mondays.

"I'd like to leave the library branch hours at the hours they are now," says Suhm, "which means spreading staff thinner. That's not a good thing, but it'll be OK for a year or two. We usually have four, five staff in the library, and maybe we can cut that somewhat." Indeed, the latest proposal calls for a reduction in 89 full-time employees.

"That's means it'll take longer to get books on the shelf," says Suhm, herself a former libriarian. "And kids will lose help, but they'll be open at least."

And we spoke about some of the city's abandoned libraries -- how, in a perfect world, she could sell something like the old Walnut Hill branch that now sits boarded up. But "I'm not interested in a fire sale," she says. However ...

"I have a group of cultural nonprofits looking at the Casa View library," Suhm says. "It's the twin to the Walnut Hill, and they have enough money to put a nonprofit arts facility in there if I leased the building to them for a buck a year. If they can get their act together, that's a good use. A lot of times peple want us to maintain them. But I do have those kind offers. But do remember, we're not out of those buuildings because they're usable. They're outdated and expensive to run."

Appropriately, today on Huffington Post there's a piece headlined "Libraries and Librarians Are Endangered Species: What You Can Do to Help."

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