Library supporters say their work is far from over

After months of rallying against the proposed closure of three community libraries in Minneapolis, Marcy-Holmes resident Carol Roos said it was hard to see the doors of the facilities locked at the end of December without knowing when - or if - they will open again.

But Roos and other library advocates said the closure of Roosevelt, Southeast and Webber Park libraries is far from the final chapter in the story of the city's struggling library system and is hardly the end of their work. Library supporters are planning an organized effort to continue to voice their concerns to Hennepin County commissioners, Minneapolis City Council members and state legislators. Cheryl Luger, who lives in the Minnehaha neighborhood and formed Save Our Urban Libraries (SOUL) in September, said the plan is to set up informational meetings with city, county and state leaders to push for a long-term solution for the financially ailing library system.

Roos knows it will take more than a few concerned citizens to get the attention of lawmakers, but she said the problems plaguing the city's library system affect patrons at all of the city's 15 libraries.

&#8220This year, it will be these three libraries, but if the operating budget doesn't get fixed, next year it will be more libraries,” Roos said.

The Library Board passed its final 2007 budget Dec. 20, almost two months after it took its first vote on a financial plan for the upcoming year. After the Library Board voted Oct. 25 to close the three libraries, a flurry of actions by Mayor R.T. Rybak and the City Council to provide additional funding to the library system gave many supporters hope that the libraries scheduled for closure would remain open. Although the City Council approved an additional one-time cash infusion of $1.2 million for libraries, the measure lacked the ongoing funding Library Board members said was needed to keep the three libraries open.

Throughout the often intense, emotionally charged budget process, a number of supporters consistently sat through one late-night Library Board meeting after another, attended City Council hearings and spoke repeatedly at public forums in opposition to the closure of any of the branch libraries.

Roos said she feels supporters can claim a small victory in the fact that although the libraries are closed, the buildings won't be sold.

In addition to the closure of the three community libraries, the new Central Library is now closed on Mondays. The remaining 11 community libraries have expanded hours and are open Tuesday through Saturday, eight hours a day. None of the Minneapolis public libraries will be open on Mondays.

East Lake and North Regional libraries, which have been closed for renovations, will open early this year. The grand re-opening of North Regional Library will be held Saturday, Jan. 27 from 1-6 p.m. The grand re-opening of the East Lake Library will be held Saturday, March 3 from 1-6 p.m.

Several committees comprised of city and county leaders, as well as community members, have been formed to examine potential solutions - including things such as a full or partial merger with the Hennepin County library system - for the long-term future of the Minneapolis Public Library system. Library Board members are also waiting to see if the Minnesota Legislature provides an increase in local government aid, upon which the libraries in Minneapolis are heavily dependent for funding.

While all this is happening, library advocates say they'll continue to meet with elected officials and find ways to rally residents.

&#8220This isn't over with yet,” Luger said. &#8220This is going to be an extended process.”

Reach Kari VanDerVeen at 436-4373 or [email protected].