Author's Charts Show Where Dallas Ranks Among Nation's Libraries. (Spoiler: Low.)

Karen Blumenthal was once a Wall Street Journal bureau chief and continues to write about the money business for the newspaper; and that's her name on the books Mr. Sam: How Sam Walton Built Walmart and Became America's Richest Man and Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition. Blumenthal is also on the board of directors of the Friends of the Dallas Public Library. Which is why she sent me the note and chart that follow.

It has to do with more cuts to the library's budget, as proposed in City Manager Mary Suhm's FY2011-12 budget. As I noted only last week, Suhm -- herself a former librarian -- is reinstating about $340,000 for materials downtown (a 20-percent bump over the FY2010-11 budget), but that's still a pittance compared to where the budget once was. And dozens are being laid off. And hours will remain limited, at both the central library and the branches. It's all so very far from "world class," which is why Mayor Mike Rawlings has resurrected an old city council arts committee and tasked it with finding "alternative funding sources for arts, culture and libraries."

Blumenthal writes that she is "distressed that the city is proposing to cut another $1.4 million from a budget that has now been slashed by more than 40% over the last four years." So, she and the Friends have put together a series of charts showing how much Dallas spends on its libraries -- and how that ranks statewide and nationally. If it's a race to the bottom, we're all winners.

On behalf of the Friends, I've done some research on how Dallas compares with its peers in Texas and across the nation, and really, it's just heartbreaking. You'll see in the charts attached that while Dallas has been cutting and cutting its library spending, San Antonio, Austin and Fort Worth have actually been rebuilding their budgets. It's so bad that the city of Fort Worth plans to spend more on libraries next year than Dallas does.

The city is boasting that it plans to increase the materials budget to $2 million from about $1.7 million last year -- and less than $1 million the year before. That's good news, for sure, but in terms of spending on materials per citizen, Dallas is one of the lowest among cities of any size in the nation, even with the increase. A city our size should have a budget and a materials budget that is about twice where ours currently is.

I would froth at the mouth about how important the library is, how many people ours serves and how great the demand is for books, DVDs, databases and newspapers, but I'm told you already understand that.
Library Charts 08 2011

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky