Dallas Finally Stopped Cutting Libraries, But the Damage is Already Done

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The city is learning that if libraries are never open, people will never come.
Libraries, as we already know, have not been spared City Manager Mary Suhm's budget cleaver in recent years. The library budget has been chopped and quartered like perhaps no other city department, having been sliced in half since peaking at $36 million peak in 2007. That's decimated staffing levels, hours of operation, materials budget -- just about everything.

The hemorrhaging seems to be over now, with the city promising to keep its locations open for 40 hours per week and add $1 million to its paltry budget for new materials -- almost enough to cover all the 50 Shades books they need.

It's a good start, but a lot of damage has been done over the past five years. Between 2008 and 2010, the number of visitors at city libraries dropped by more than 20 percent, from 6.3 million to 5 million. According to an interim report on the city's strategic plan, the number of people visiting the library in the six-month period between October and April dropped by 14 percent over the same period a year before.

A lot of the reduction in usage stems from the draconian cuts to libraries' operating hours. If people could visit the library Sunday or Monday, a lot of them would. But the hours of operation stabilized last year, and usage has continued to drop.

Kate Park, executive director of the Friends of the Dallas Public Library, isn't quite sure why. One obvious factor is the materials budget, cuts to which have limited the amount and type of new books libraries can buy.

"If the library's not going to have the books you want, you're not going to go," she said.

No doubt budget cuts have also damaged the library's brand. What was a quiet place to go on the weekend to find that book you'd been wanting to read is now the place that's locked tight every time you go and doesn't have the book anyway. Just the other day, Park says she encountered a dishwasher trying to get into Central Library on Monday, his only day off, to study for the GED. It was, of course, closed.

Park thinks library usage will rebound as the library budget is restored, as she is optimistic will happen. The extra $1 million for library materials for the coming year is a great start, and she's confident that libraries will be a priority as tax revenues continue to creep upward.

"It's not going to happen overnight," Park said. "They didn't cut the budget overnight, but it seems like everything's moving in positive direction."

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17 comments
Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

And when you can get in, there's always some jackass talking on a cellphone.

 

I'm a fan of e-books, but sometimes you need to have the real thing--especially if you are reading or researching topics that require illustrations or photos. E-books and even computer screens don't always do them justice in the way a book can.

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

I stopped visiting the Skyline Branch a few years ago because it was understaffed, the building was poorly maintained and the selection was terrible (lots of very old books in bad condition). Now that the White Rock Hills Branch has opened I visit about once a week. It's a beautiful building, there always seem to be at least two or three staff members available and it's full of wonderful items. I know it's a new location and it's unfair to compare it to the older ones but the condition of many of the locations is nothing short of shameful. Only time will tell if the city will support the libraries and refurbish the crumbling branches. I hope they do or I will be abandoning White Rock Hills too when it inevitably crumbles in a few years.

 

As much as I enjoy e-books I still enjoy browsing the shelves and reading a real book. Even at $50 or $60 e-readers are still out of reach of many residents of Dallas. I think it will be a very long time before we see e-books completely replace paper books.

test
test

Dallas can't even fix the roads and you're worried that the library isn't open 24/7 so homeless can go in and watch porn?

cp1757
cp1757

Very shortsighted indeed. Think about the economy - and think about those who stand to lose most. Elderly on fixed incomes. Single parents. People who have been unemployed or underemployed. Commenters, do you think these are the people who are buying ereaders? We must care for the community as a vital entity - in much the same way that a relationship requires attention and work to thrive. Yes, there are cultural shifts to electronic access. But the changes detailed in the editorial are not the result of loss of interest. It is the reverse.

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

Eric,

 

Your fourth paragraph, on which your entire premise is built, is bullshit.  You have no evidence (some people refer to them as "facts") to back up your statements.  

 

This piece would fail the Sophomore English class I had in 1979 at Katy High School.  It is truly embarrassing that somebody (I'm looking at you, Joe Tone) allowed it to be published.

 

If you are educated beyond the High School level (and I assume you are), how about applying some of what you learned and step things up a bit, eh?

halldecker
halldecker

I'm using the e-books almost exclusively.  I choose and dl books,  they come in a variety of formats,  including Kindle and pdf,  return them electronically when I'm finished.

 

That's the wave of the future.  It makes operations more efficient,  click to return 'stead of them laying around the house till I remember to take the books back.

 

I find new books that aren't on the shelves at the Skillman branch.

 

 

withersb
withersb

@testYou are apparently not much of reader.  Some of us are avid readers and many rely on libraries.  A literate population is extremely important to a country.  You apparently do not understand that.  So why are you bothering those of us who do?

halldecker
halldecker

Do you know Chauncey Gardner,  perhaps?

 

 

joe.tone
joe.tone moderator

And I'm looking right back at you, @PlanoDave So, do tell: How is the fourth graph bullshit? And while we're staring awkwardly at each other, let me ask: Does your disagreement require dickishness, or can these two qualities be decoupled?

 

EdD.
EdD.

 @PlanoDave You don't believe that there are Dallas residents that would visit the library on Sunday or Monday if it was open?

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

 @joe.tone And I always respect that you have the cojones to respond directly to criticism (snarky or not).  

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

 @joe.tone There are no facts supporting his premise, simply very broad assumptions.  If you are comfortable with that level of writing, that is your decision.

 

Yes, I can decouple my disagreement with my dickishness, but sometimes the urge to channel my inner snarky critic is too strong to overcome.  I am sure that you understand as you seem to be occasionally overcome by the same need.  ;-)

 

Seriously, Richie Whitt needed firing, but this Eric guy gets to keep wasting 0's and 1's?  Whitt was a douche, but at least he could back up his positions.  This dude is just a hack.

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

 @EdD. 

 

His premise is that there is a large demographic of people who would visit the library on Sunday or Monday, but not on any other day.  There simply aren't any facts to back up that premise.  That is why this piece would fail a decent Soph English Class.  No supporting facts.

ResistanceIsOhm
ResistanceIsOhm

 @EdD.  @PlanoDave agreed Ed. I LOVE the library, but the truncated hours make getting there before they close a hassle. The main library closes at 5pm. Really? I work. Am I supposed to take a sick day to go check out a book? I make it work (mostly by speeding like crazy and getting there 5min before close) but the short hours suck

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

 @joe.tone After further consideration (and discussion with a friend), the point of "The Dallas Observer?!?!?!?!?  Isn't that the free rag that has ads for hookers on the back page?!?!?!?!  What the hell are you doing reading that crap?!?!?!?!?!?" really rings true.

 

Good luck and good fortune.

 

PlanoDave out.

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

 @joe.tone "A lot of the reduction in usage stems from the draconian cuts to libraries' operating hours. If people could visit the library Sunday or Monday, a lot of them would. But the hours of operation stabilized last year, and usage has continued to drop"

 

1.  "A lot of the reduction in usage..."  -- No supporting evidence. 2.  "draconian" -- Hyperbole often?

3.   "If peope could visit...Sunday or Monday, a lot of them would" -- No supporting evidence.  No consideration of what this would mean in terms of other hours being reduced and what that would imply to visitation rates.

4.  "...continued to drop."  -- no consideration of other factors which may contribute to lower attendance.  For example, the homeless people at the front of the library, the inconisiderate people inside the library, online books, other sources of books, decline in overall readership, other libraries available due to things like UNT downtown.

 

Again, I just don't think that this piece would merit a passing grade from an English teacher worth his/her paycheck.

 

And "every measure available" isn't supporting evidence, either.

 

Joe, I can see you write, do you read in your off time to improve your mind?  If so, you might find the book "Think" interesting and applicable to the situation at the Dallas Observer in many ways.  The Author is Michael R LeGault and it is available very cheaply used at Amazon.com.  (Another possible reason for reduced visitation at Public Libraries)

joe.tone
joe.tone moderator

 @PlanoDave 1. What are you disputing? That the library being open more wouldn't encourage more usage? Of course it would. It's not a broad assumption. It's basic human behavior. I've literally been on my way to the library before I remembered, Oh shit, it's randomly closed right now. There's one person. Count up from there.

 

2. Richie wasn't fired.

 

3. Eric's not a hack. And that's fact, confirmed by every measure available.

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