Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

LIBRARY FUTURE; Options Galore

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

LIBRARY FUTURE; Options Galore

Article excerpt

The near term for libraries is certain: less revenue, more tough choices.

The medium future is also certain: more technology, fewer staffers.

The role of the library? Now that is the uncertain part.

Can it be all things to all people, the way it has been? Provide books, computer access, meeting space, electronic information and entertainment like DVDs and movies?

The revenue is simply not there to support an ideal library system. While a special taxing district may be the dream of some library supporters, that would be years away in even an optimistic scenario.

Those are just some of the thoughts that arise following a recent three-hour meeting of an ad hoc capacity plan committee connected to the Library Board.

Another budget for the next fiscal year is looming. Library CEO Barbara Gubbin said she expects to be told in February or March to make cuts in the budget, which has been an annual exercise in recent years.

RANGE OF CHOICES

This time, the board determined to have a range of options for decisionmakers to make, unlike the messy communications process during the current budget year. The library board suggested closing some branches; instead, City Council decided to use about $500,000 assigned for purchasing DVDs, instead.

This is not unique to Jacksonville. The Charlotte Mecklenburg system approved a plan to close 12 branches. That later was changed to closing three branches and cutting the materials budget.

Fort Worth proposed closing three branches but relented after public opposition.

The only certainty in Jacksonville is that tough choices are ahead.

LIBRARY'S CHANGING ROLE

For instance, should the library even be providing DVDs, with all the options in the private market now? For instance, one of the most popular materials at the Graham branch library is movies on DVD. Or should the library sell access to one of the DVD dispenser operations and make some revenue from the service?

How about a beautiful new library that was placed in an unfortunate location, at least for the time being? The Maxville library does not have much business. Many of the Duval County residents are driving away from the library toward downtown. And it's near two adjacent counties: Clay and Baker.

What if a three-county partnership could be arranged, so that the Maxville library would be operated for all three counties? Could the community center and library share space with one of the facilities sold?

Out-of-the-box thinking is needed. For instance, The Wall Street Journal described libraries that are installing metal vending areas or outdoor kiosks.

The library board is relying on consultants to help provide a cafeteria of choices. Board members are looking for proposals that would include a dream scenario; a major budget-cutting scenario; and business as usual with upgrading the current system. …

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