This morning, Friends of Jacksonville Public Library gathered in front of the Main Library with a plea to the city: Don't cut our budget-restore it.
The group believes the mayor's proposed $500,000 cut to the materials budget will further diminish the quality and number of library resources available to the public. The mayor's office did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
In a handout distributed at the press conference this morning, the Friends point out that the library's materials budget was $5.3 million in 2005; for next fiscal year, the entire materials budget, $2.9 million, is less than 2005's print books budget alone. The city isn't the only one slashing the library's budget; the state has proposed a $150,000 reduction in the funding it provides to JPL, according to the handout.
Fewer resources mean longer wait times for popular titles, and fewer periodicals and other materials. Anyone who has tried to check out a new bestseller knows the "hold" blues. Wait times of several months for popular titles and films are not uncommon.
To address the accumulated loss in purchasing power caused by 13 years of cuts, the Friends are asking for an increase of $850,000 for materials and $1.1 million to add a sixth day of service at nine branches: Argyle, Beaches, Mandarin, Maxville, Murray Hill, San Marco, South Mandarin, West and Willowbranch.
Along with several others, Friends member Harry Reagan, a former president of the group, lamented how few libraries are open on Sundays; they'd like to see all libraries open six days a week. According to the library website, of 21 branches, only five-Main, Highlands Regional, Pablo Creek Regional, Southeast Regional, Charles Webb Wesconnett Regional-are open on Sundays, and for only four hours in the afternoon.
In an apparent nod to the proposed addition of 100 new cops to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, for which funding is included in this year's budget, Reagan noted that the library's request for funds isn't intended to take away from public safety spending. "The library is always handicapped in the budget because we're pitted against public safety," he said, adding, "Libraries have a role in public safety."
To stave off the impact of cuts to the library's budget over the years, in part due to the Great Recession and in part due to the city rolling back property taxes at times, the Friends have held fundraisers, volunteered and donated funds and other items. They remain willing to help out when necessary, but with the mayor proposing a capital spending plan and the city's available funds actually increasing next year, the Friends believe it's time to restore some of the libraries' hours and funding.
Volunteer Sue Giddings said that libraries, which provide voter registration, community outreach and more, lean heavily on volunteers to function. She said that last year, the Friends group associated with the South Mandarin branch bought long-overdue seating for the children's library, and a refrigerator to store the yogurt that children today use for finger-painting. Giddings lamented staffing and other shortages caused by the loss of funds, which she believes hinders the entire community.
"Libraries are the lighthouses of learning in our neighborhoods," Giddings said.