Dallas' Libraries, Among the Nation's Worst Funded, May Actually Get Some More Money

Categories: City Hall

DallasLibraries.jpg
Mang9
The substantially underfunded Dallas Public Libraries are in desperate need of overhaul, including increased hours of operation and community programs.
On Wednesday, book lovers from across the city showed up in force at the Dallas City Council meeting. It was the first time council members were able to throw amendments at the proposed city budget for the next fiscal year. And supporters of Dallas Public Libraries wanted them to carefully consider the library budget in their decision-making.

After half a decade of budget cuts, Dallas' library system has some of the most limited operation hours of any city library system in the country. It catching up to do if it is to restore competitive hours -- that is, more than 40 hours per week -- and standard facility operations. This last fiscal year, the City of Dallas spent $18.29 per person on its libraries. Houston spent $18.26. Houston's is the worst funded library system in the country. Dallas' is the second-worst.

Before the 2008 recession, the city approved a budget of $32 million for city libraries. Last year, with slashed hours and substantial staff cuts, the city allotted $22 million. "The City does not fund any programming, anything extra. All of that is funded through private funding," says Karen Blumenthal, a local journalist and author who's on the board of the Friends of Dallas Public Libraries. "We need things like copiers and scanners and classes. Right now things like construction paper for the preschool story groups are privately funded."

In budget planning for this fiscal year, the Dallas City Council agreed to add an additional $3 million to the library budget this year, with plans to add an additional $3 million to the budget the next year. That should satisfy some major hour and staff needs.

But advocates like Blumenthal, herself a frequent visitor to her Lake Highlands branch, say that's not enough. "Our push has been to say to the city, the library budget needs $10 million. So we have two issues, one is the hours, and to open the doors is about 6 million. But then the other is $4 million needed for basic stuff, like classes, technology, and outreach to the community."

It's a problem some city council members are eager to rally behind. Councilman Scott Griggs jumpstarted the meeting by suggesting a 15 percent cut to the city manager's budget, which could free up an additional $3 million to be put toward the library budget.

That would mean that the proposed staff hirings and extended hours could happen all at once this fiscal year, instead of spreading out the change over two years. As it is, the current proposed library budget sits at a little over $25 million. Griggs' proposal would bring the budget to a more robust $28 million for staff hirings.

While Griggs' eagerness is applaudable, Director of Libraries Mary Jo Giudice reined it in. She cautioned that while adding 50 to 100 new employees was a necessary initiative, in a practical sense it would be impossible to hire and train that many staffers by the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1.

"We're going to have to phase this in. Phasing it in makes more sense. It's not that we don't want the money, it's just that realistically you need more time," says Blumenthal. "To do this you can't make it happen with the snap of a finger. It takes time to do these things."

It's well-known within library circles across the country that Dallas libraries are in poor condition. And with a notoriously high turnover rate, it's increasingly difficult to recruit good, permanent staffers.

Still, the city is improving from the paltry $18 million budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. "It's not an issue of money, it's an issue of priorities. And they send a very bad message," says Blumenthal. "They've got a reputation to repair as well."


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33 comments
Annonnymous
Annonnymous

Another fine example of how good ole Mary Suhm went out of her way to promote the dumbest and most unqualified human being without a brain to be the Library Director. Dallas libraries were once the city's finest jewel under Lillian Bradshaw until she hired a librarian named Mary Suhm years ago who climbed her way to the City Manager position by..... You-know-What.

Instead of restoring the downtown library to it's former glory, the current Library Director has turned it into a day care for the homeless and has even created special programs at the library for them. She is despised by her staff, arrogant with patrons and a condescending liar to Library Board members who put with up her nonsense for reasons that can only be explained by this: Joey Zapata is the Assistant City Manager responsible for libraries. So Dallas has dumb and dumber leading the Dallas Public Library system.

In the mean time, the former Dallas Library Director who didn't kiss Suhm's feet is now the country's "Librarian of the Year" and recognized in the profession for running the best library in the country.

Mayor: Don't tell library patrons Dallas is a world class city. You, the City Council and A.C. have more staff at the Library to move around on the organization chart since you refuse to show them the door.

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

I love books and libraries.  I would have nominated Dallas library guru Lillian Bradshaw for sainthood given the chance.  And, I have my own modest library which I wouldn't trade for anything.


But, in the Digital Age, DEMAND for libraries keeps dropping, the more Kindle digital reading devices, iPads, and computers come down in price.  Students no longer use public libraries for studying or research; they go online and find information without the cost of gas, dodging beggars, and other unpleasant things around many of our libraries. 


It is a fact that people do not remember facts or information when read digitally as opposed to books.  (http://publishingperspectives.com/2014/08/readers-remember-less-on-kindles-than-on-paper/).  But, more money for libraries won't help that.  


I believe Dallas Public Libraries need to seriously consider mission and services changes and updating BEFORE asking for more money.  They used to be excellent partners in business or statistical research, over the phone even.  Most were excellent community meeting areas. 


Just as blacksmiths had to learn the art of changing tires, and repairing radiators, librarians need to focus less on housing and caring for books, and more on reading and research however it takes place, but mostly meeting consumer use demand of computers, microfilm readers, Kindles, etc. 


Before the libraries assemble other than structural and maintenance budgets at the expense of Dallas taxpayers, I believe the city and librarians need to do some research on their own as to what other library systems have done to update, confer with the business community on its needs, discuss with DISD, SMU, DBU, and DCCC what ideas as well as needs they may foresee, and do some extensive public opinion surveys to find out 1)  what people like and don't like about the libraries, 2) how they read books and do their own research, and 3)  What ideas do they have for modernizing our libraries for a new century and changing world at work, recreation, and study.

bradjohnson774
bradjohnson774

"This last fiscal year, the City of Dallas spent $18.29 per person on its libraries."  


I'd be more interested in how much the city spent per patron, not per citizen.  I'm sure they can easily run a number of how many individuals actually checked out a book in the last year, and each year prior.  I'd bet, without actually knowing, that the spend per-patron has been increasing every year as fewer people need to go to a library to get a book or do research.  Those are the purposes of a library, and the need is being eclipsed by technology.


Libraries are understandably trying to shift their focus to programs and classes and outreach to try to maintain their relevance.  Why should the city fund non-library functions just because they're being run out of a building that warehouses books that fewer people actually use each year?  Why on earth is construction paper funding even an issue?  Maybe copiers are nice as a convenience in some parts of town, but in much of the town, there's a fedex/kinkos even closer.

davedoug99
davedoug99

I noticed nobody seems to mention increased funding for, you know, books.  My library has a pathetically small and limited selection of books.  When items go missing or aren't returned, they don't seem to be replaced.  I agree that increased hours should be the first priority, and I agree that printers and programs are both good things, but I think the second highest priority should be keeping the library stocked.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

 ". . . well known in library circles across the country . . . "

Library circles????

Who knew? Must be a quiet bunch.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

But what the hey!  We have a deck park, a cultural arts plaza play thingy and a string thingy bridge.  Oh, and don't forget the closed down whitewater thingy in the river where you are supposed to avoid water contact.

GAA1
GAA1

Libraries are a great resource for our community and they should be funded well at all costs. 

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

@Annonnymous Mary Suhm ended up in Risk Management, which is where I first encountered her.  She had some of the goofiest ideas ever, but she was good with numbers (with a calculator). 


Our last great City Manager was George Shafer, our most corrupt were Chuck Anderson and John Ware.  I still regard Richard Knight as one of our best, as well as Jan Hart Black. 


Mary Suhm has been a huge disappointment, and library management has ended up on the trash heap of political correctness rather than meeting current and future reading demands. 


Any manager worth his/her salt would have long ago cleared all libraries from the homeless, petty criminals, and illegal invaders. 


Perhaps now is a good time for the Library support groups and the business community to act on their own, review everything about the library system, and approach the Council with suggestions for future operations. 



ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@noblefurrtexas 

"...  they go online and find information ..."


There is a big difference between what is found on the internet and what is found in libraries.  It is called an index.  Libraries have them, the internet does not.  Search engines on the internet are nothing more than the results of popularity contests.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@noblefurrtexas you're mistaken, libraries are more essential than ever.  They bridge the digital divide for many, offer books on line and many other digital access.  Your argument is VERY dated

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

@bradjohnson774 I very much agree. 


I honestly believe our libraries need to go back to the basics that many companies have used approaching a new century and answer the questions: 


1.  What business are we in? 


2.  What business are we REALLY in?


3.  Who are our customers? 


4.  Who are our most profitable customers, and what services do they want, need, and/or will pay for? 


5.  Who are out competitors?  What business(es) would you say they are in?


6.  Are our products reasonably and competitively priced for THIS marketplace, and what do we do that is most profitable, most expensive, and least profitable? 


7.  Are we doing the best we can on what we have, including employees and contractors and vendors?


8.  What risks do we have, and which are greatest or least likely to occur?


9.  What are our most important upcoming challenges, and what are we doing to prepare for - and meet - them head on?


10.  How are we measuring success, and are those indexes realistic to our most important and/or most profitable business purposes? 


These questions need to be answered, not just by the top two or three people in the organization, but with the inclusion of mid-level managers, people from accounting, and those closest to production and services.

roo_ster
roo_ster

@bradjohnson774 

Yep.  A larger & larger proportion of Dallas's population has no desire to darken the doors of the library.  Vibrancy is like that.

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

@GAA1 I think at one time our libraries were among our most precious and popular amenities in Dallas.  But, as the Digital Age has arrived under full steam, and the old library missions become more and more obsolete, I believe sound and responsible public policy is to determine funding based on current and realistically future demand expectations. 


I believe before we fund something, we need to know that the mission is relevant to today, and that what it's doing is worth the money to the taxpayers and the city. 


We need to always keep in mind that virtually all public funds expended are from the shrinking number of people who pay city taxes.  Every dollar should go for a demand (as in the case of libraries) or an appropriate services or operations of  city government.

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

@scottindallas @noblefurrtexas If you were correct, which you are not, our libraries would be flooded with patrons and Demand would be feverish.  But, it's not the case, and Demand is almost the opposite. 


I pass two Dallas Public Libraries several days per week.  At one time, they were crowded.  No longer, and the empty parking lots betray their lack of Demand. 


As I said above, I'm on the side of the libraries.  I still read hard-cover books, and I use a combination of computers and books for research.  But, I know from talking with friends that I am the exception; not the rule. 


I sincerely believe for public libraries to remain relevant, they must re-examine their missions, and listen to those with ideas about making them more relevant.  Otherwise, they will soon to the way of the blacksmith. 


I don't know about you, but I take great comfort at having neighborhood libraries.  If you've read the story of the progress of the Dallas Public Library system, then you know it used to have one central location, and "bookmobiles" often served the neighborhoods.  So, I see the buildings housing libraries in neighborhood to still have great potential. 


BUT.....they are expensive to operate and maintain, and need to find ways to justify the increasing amounts of tax dollars necessary to just exist and have a skeleton staff.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@noblefurrtexas libraries aren't in "Business" they don't have customers but "patrons"  you're argument isn't dated, it's ignorant

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@noblefurrtexas @scottindallas we've had many branches for decades. Libraries are constantly evolving, though it takes money and staff to do that.  Hopefully, with an injection of funds, they can better pivot.  Libraries today do a great business with DVDs and be they physical, or on-line access.


noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

@scottindallas @noblefurrtexas If you don't understand, you might want to keep it to yourself rather than trumpeting your incapacity to the world. 


You will find that consultants for non-profit operations quite often use business parallels since the purposes and conditions are often quite similar. 


SMUs courses of study for Not-For-Profit organizations also uses business phrasing and parallels in structure.  (All that is really different is generally accounting, the use of volunteers, and the ability to raise money in the form of donations for NGOs, and add taxes to the list for government owned operations.

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

@scottindallas @noblefurrtexas Quantify this with legitimate statistics, and you may have a point. Until then, it's an opinion.


I'm also now curious why so many supporters of research and reading seem to be resistant to evaluations of our library system to see how it could better transition into the digital age, and possibly repurpose its facilities to address other information and research needs as well as entertainment resources. 

I remain opposed to increasing the budgets of our library pending getting the results of these kinds of surveys and studies, so that we're "investing" in our libraries rather than merely paying for the dinosaur to perpetuate itself. 

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

@scottindallas @noblefurrtexas During WWII, the main Dallas library did a booming business in early 8mm cartoons and 16mm films of various kinds.  So, providing entertainment for checkout is not new or revolutionary. 


But, BEFORE we commit many more millions of hard-earned tax dollars to libraries, I believe it is essential to review the current Demands and needs, what future services might be emphasized to keep customer loyalty, and lose services and sections that are obsolete or not in demand. 


I want to see the libraries survive.  But, they can't just be cash caverns that don't adequately return on investment.  Tax dollars deserve to be better invested.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@noblefurrtexas @scottindallas the differences are far greater than that.  And, I would say SMU and the business perspective is a VERY poor one.  There aren't just businesses, but at least three different business models, free markets, professional markets, and utilities.  Many business people are in denial about this, or trying to confuse people.  The conflation of business modelling on gov't services is a pernicious one as they are different models with different incentives and structures.


scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@noblefurrtexas @scottindallas All that stuff is already happening.  Just cause you're ignorant of these events, doesn't mean they're not happening.  My Librarian GF is my source

Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall topcommenter

@noblefurrtexas @scottindallas I simply refer you back to your earlier comment "Mary Suhm has been a huge disappointment, and library management has ended up on the trash heap of political correctness rather than meeting current and future reading demands. "


I happily live in a suburb with a thriving library system in constant use by its citizens.  Act in an unruly manner and you will be strongly encouraged to leave.


noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

@Sotiredofitall @scottindallas @noblefurrtexas So you're saying that University Park wasn't a city until it had a library, or perhaps Allen, or perhaps some of the newest communities in Far northeast Dallas County and Plano?

I rather agree that libraries can be very important to a community, and many are used for lectures and teaching in a public forum.  So, I consider them essential. 

Can anyone tell me the last time an *independent* company did studies for the Dallas Public Library that included a traffic and use study, demographics of users through interviews, the books or other items most in demand by category as well as title, and other measurements of operational analysis?

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

@scottindallas @noblefurrtexas With all due respect, business people deny those opinions because they are incredibly wrong.  NGOs and Non-profits encompass everything from healthcare (a highly complex combination of purposes), education, the arts, neighborhood crime watch, 501(c)(3)s that exist for the alleviation of the burdens of government, membership organizations such as Junior League or the Salesmanship Club, science development groups such as alternative fuels, political organizations, and dozens more.  MOST of these easily track business models, whose primary contrast is being in business to earn a profit. 

Perhaps this quote about one of several Non-Profit Management organizations will help you:


"Perhaps the oldest is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, management support organization (MSO) in Dallas, Texas that provides services to build the business and management skills of other nonprofits in the North Texas area. As one of the nation's largest MSOs, the Center for Nonprofit Management in Dallas brings current tools for best practices in nonprofit management to thousands of nonprofit boards, staff and volunteers each year."

If you'll spend some time reading online about the Center For Non-profit Management, and others, you'll discover the many parallels between managing Not-For-Profit organizations, and for-profit businesses. 



scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@noblefurrtexas @scottindallas most of your categories are meaningless, (many for business too) 3, 4, 5, 6 are totally misapplied to public service, in fact, if one were to focus on these, they'd be distracted and deviate from their mission.  You should perhaps discuss this with my Librarian GF.  But, the comparisons between the private and public sector are misplaced, poor management and fails to grasp the inherently different nature of these "markets" if you will.  The gov't is in those fields, precisely because it runs differently than the private sector.  They're like Venn Diagrams covering different fields. 

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

@Sotiredofitall @noblefurrtexas @scottindallas That's great to hear, but that's not the case in MOST libraries, and especially the main downtown library. 


Having multiple convenient neighborhood libraries is a huge cost, and just keeping the plant equipment working is very expensive.  As we get more digital, and in-person visits become less and less frequent, consolidation of libraries into "area facilities" may save money and service customers just as well. But, these things are among the long list to be studied and evaluated. 


I'm honestly on the side of the libraries.  But, I'm not married to just one structure of the system.

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

@scottindallas @noblefurrtexas It's great to have a business expert tell me that planning session topics (questions) for businesses are irrelevant?


These are the kinds of questions that need to be asked; not the exact wording.  But, those with good educations will immediately translate in their minds. 


And, for you or anyone else who is interested, Google: "future of libraries", and you'll have a wealth of knowledge about the topic.  Go to your local library and try researching a topic quite relevant to them, and it will take an hour-and-a-half or so to arrive at a list and see what's in stock. 

I'm not an adversary to libraries, and want them to modernize and be there for future generations.  But, given a cost-benefit analysis, they're not doing so well in Dallas. 

So, it's time for some changes, and we should know what those need to be before funding them. 



noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

@scottindallas @noblefurrtexas Read below. Oh, and one of American's more famous librarians, Laura Bush, agrees about research the future of libraries to keep them relevant instead of declining asset - victims of their refusal to use modern management and organizational behavior tools and disciplines to constantly "earn" the huge budget they have.

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