Birmingham Public Library calls on city for additional funding to keep libraries open
By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) has seen its budget cut by almost $ 4 million since 2010 and needs more funds if all of its branches are to remain open, a BPL official said at a meeting of the city council committee this week.
“If we can keep all of our libraries open, I think that’s a wonderful thing, but I think we also have to face the realities where we’ve seen our budget cuts come,” said Kim Richardson, who chairs the long-term program. BPL Board of Directors Planning Committee, “As you would in your home … if your budget has been cut by a third, something has to go.”
Over the past decade, funding for BPL in the city’s annual budgets has been reduced from $ 17.1 million to $ 13.2 million, a decrease of $ 3.9 million, said Richardson to counselors at the education committee meeting.
“When you cut at the level where you hardly can find any more cuts, then where do you go,” said Richardson. “What kinds of opportunities do you need to find or solutions do you need to find to say, ‘How can we provide the best level of service? “”
Councilor Clinton Woods said BPL should be preemptively involved in annual budget conversations if city hall is to fix problems with the system. Since BPL is not hosted at Town Hall, Woods said councilors might not be aware of the needs.
“Anyone on a budget has a lot more needs than what really meets the demand, but I think with the library we have a lot of blind spots when it comes to need,” he said. declared.
This latest request for additional BPL funding comes after board members, city officials and residents clashed earlier this year when board chair Eunice Johnson Rogers recommended the four of the city’s libraries closed, prompting residents to advocate for keeping libraries open.
Richardson said BPL needs the residents of Birmingham to be “champions in our communities,” sharing with their representatives and neighbors the importance of funding public libraries.
“When we have the ability to prioritize based on how we allocate our dollars, being able to say that libraries are important and we don’t want to see the cuts,” said Richardson, “but also, most importantly , talk to others so that others know about it, and I think that’s a role that anyone can play… ”
Beyond reading books and other media, BPL also provides a variety of other services to city residents, including computer and WiFi access, voter registration and notary services, in addition to ” organize many career fairs and other community events. Richardson said libraries were helpful when she started her own business, Kimberly Richardson Consulting, LLC.
“When I started my business, I used the libraries for a number of my meetings. I didn’t have an office… it’s something that could be used as an incubator for a small business owner, ”said Richardson,“ who would find himself in the same position as 15 years ago of trying to understand where you are going when trying to start a business.
Richardson also said that if library branches close, BPL is considering what can be done to replace the services provided by those libraries.
“We have had conversations with faith groups, with our Parks and Recreation Board of Directors on, ‘Could we convert and do more innovative and creative things if our libraries were to close,’ said Richardson, ‘ so we’re not just saying we’re closing libraries and their services are gone, but how do we keep those services going in a new way. “
Going forward, Richardson said BPL needs to resolve its facilities issues as well. Currently, three libraries in the city are closed for issues such as flooding, including the East Lake and Ensley branches, which have been closed since June, as well as the Powderly branch.
The Powderly agency developed a leak in its heating system in November but is expected to be fixed and reopened “by the month,” said Janine Langston, who was appointed director of BPL last week.
Langston said Ensley closed due to severe flooding. Since June, some damage has been removed from the facility, but no repairs have been made and the facility has remained vacant, Langston said.
East Lake has been closed due to an HVAC issue since the summer but BPL has not offered more information on its condition.
Rick Journey, Mayor Randall Woodfin’s communications director, said he would provide a comment once he received more information. A representative from BPL could not be reached for further comment.