CBJ could make last-minutes cuts to libraries’ budget

Youth, outreach programs served around 16,000 in 2016

Visitors make use of the free internet connection at the Downtown Public Library on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. A city budget meeting on Tuesday is looking at possible cuts to libraries to help balance the budget. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Though the City and Borough of Juneau’s budget process for next year is almost finished, the Juneau Public Library’s youth and outreach programs may be the subject of last-minute cuts from City Hall.

 

The city is considering less funding for the library’s youth and outreach programs in its next fiscal year, which starts July 1. There are two proposals that could cut funding by as much as $146,000, and neither option is yet final. JPL Director Robert Barr knows these kinds of discussions are part of the process, and he said it’s normal for an organization to want to consider all of its options before finalizing its budget.

“I think this was just one of those things that they intended to look at and then it just kind of never rose to the fore,” Barr said, “so here we are late in the process potentially looking at it because they wanted to make sure they do a complete job.”

Members of the CBJ Assembly can propose amendments to the budget when it goes in front of the Assembly this coming Monday for final approval. Finance Director Bob Bartholomew said it isn’t unusual for an amendment to get added at the end of the budget process. Originally, the Assembly’s finance committee scheduled a meeting for Wednesday night to discuss library funding options, but that meeting was canceled because not enough of the Assembly could attend.

The programming in question served about 13,000 people at youth functions in the fiscal year 2016, Barr said, and another 3,000 teens and adults. Youth functions include early literacy programs, family nights and classroom visits. Outreach programs for teens and adults include visits to the Glory Hole, the Johnson Youth Center and other local organizations, as well as appearances at local events to encourage greater involvement with the library. There were about 450 of these programs in the FY 2016, Barr said, and the total cost of these programs is $255,450.

The city’s funding pays only for staffing, Barr said, because Friends of the Juneau Public Libraries annually donates about $30,000 for other aspects of the programs. Seven JPL employees spend around half of their time working on youth and outreach programs, and JPL estimates that scaling back funding would result in layoffs and turn full-time jobs into part-time ones.

Jonas Lamb, president of the Friends of the Juneau Public Libraries, said the city’s planned cuts came as an unpleasant surprise.

“It was kind of shocking because that’s the bread and butter of the public library programming,” Lamb said.

There are two options for scaling back the libraries’ youth and outreach services, as detailed by the CBJ:

• The first proposal would reduce spending by $55,000. JPL estimates that this would reduce early literacy programs from six days a week to two or three days a week, would halve the number of family night events, reduce classroom visits that librarians make to schools to promote reading and would eliminate outreach visits to the Glory Hole.

• The second proposal would reduce spending by $146,000 and make the same cuts as the first, in addition to eliminating outreach visits to the Adult Daycare program and to community events. The libraries also wouldn’t be able to maintain grant commitments much longer with this plan, according to the JPL, which estimates that revenues would decrease between $20,000 and $50,000 annually with the losses of these grants and other variables.

During this year’s budget process, the CBJ Finance Committee considered cutting funding for other local services, including the Juneau-Douglas City Museum and the Jensen-Olson Arboretum. Public outcry caused the committee to backpedal. Seeing the public support for those services, particularly the City Museum, encouraged Lamb, who said the Friends are prepared to rally and mobilize in support of the libraries’ services.

There are nearly 24,000 registered users (people who have used their JPL library cards in the past three years) of the library’s services, Barr said, but some of them aren’t able to physically get to a library, which makes outreach useful. Lamb specifically mentioned library patrons with limited mobility or people who are incarcerated as those who benefit from outreach programs, and pointed out that the JPL’s presence in the community has become a vital aspect of its services in recent years.

“The library’s not necessarily just a building these days,” Lamb said.


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com or 523-2271.


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