Dallas Has "Most Poorly Funded Public Library in the United States," Advocates Say
For a city run by a former librarian for most of the past decade, Dallas' libraries haven't gotten a lot of love. They were an easy target for the recession-era budget slashing of 2008, and despite an increase in materials funding last year, still haven't recovered.
Friends of the Dallas Public Library, the nonprofit responsible for many of the classes and programs you'll find at your local branch, made its semi-annual pilgrimage to City Hall to plead for more money.
Their case is a simple one. Dallas, whether you compare it with local suburbs or peer cities nationwide, is stiffing its libraries.
The main downtown library here is open a mere 40 hours per week. That's last among suburbs and large Texas cities, fewer than at the central library Carrollton, Colleyville and University Park (45 hours per week); DeSoto, Duncanville, Forth Worth, and Houston (50-plus); and Arlington, Frisco, Garland, Richardson and San Antonio (60-plus), to name a few.
Dallas also fares poorly when measured by library funding, both as a percentage of its annual budget and per capita.
"Nationally, because of these budget cuts, we are the most poorly funded public library in the United States," said the group's Karen Blumenthal.
Not counting Houston, of course, which spends just $.03 less per person on libraries than Dallas.
The net effect of this, Blumenthal told council members, is that Dallas residents are deprived of a valuable resource. Limited hours mean school kids can't make it to the library to do homework and adults with jobs can't get by to check out materials. For adults without jobs, there aren't as many GED or career training programs. Outreach efforts have had to be curtailed. If current funding holds, the library won't be able to do things like send staff members into schools to promote the mayor's summer reading program.
That's to say nothing of technology. While other libraries offer laptops and other electronic devices to checkout, Dallas is still stuck with rows of desktops. Blumenthal cited a recent instance in which she went to her local branch in hopes of finding a copier or scanner. It didn't have one.
"Of 28 branches only seven have copiers," she said. "They can't afford toner and ink, much less maintenance."
To remedy this, Blumenthal offered a rather bold proposal: Add $6.2 million to the current $22.4 million budget to restore library hours to their pre-recession levels. Then, add another $4 million or so to get the city's library expenditures to 3 percent of the annual budget, which Blumenthal described as a good rule of thumb for successful library systems.
Members of the City Council's Arts, Culture, and Libraries Committee all said nice things about how great libraries are and the need to expand hours and services following the friends' presentation, but they say that every year.
"The budget is absolutely in the ditch this year," committee chairman Philip Kingston told Blumenthal. "It's bad, but ... I'll be in there punching. We will do the best we can to get you funding."
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.