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Monday, May 12, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano
Library offers lean budget now in hopes of increase in future years
City Council members heard a humble request from the Library Department last week.
ThoughLibrary Director Brenda Branch is requesting an increase of 4.4 percent in next year’s operating budget, her presentation to City Council noted that that increase did not attempt to address a number of ongoing inadequacies facing the city’s library system.
Council Member Chris Riley asked about the reduction of branch hours that took place a number of years ago, noting that constituents were under the impression that the system had never rebounded from the cuts that took place at that time.
For several years now, branches have been closed one day a week, but paired with another so that one of the two is always open. Additionally, hours at Faulk Central Library were cut by two hours a day in 2011.
Branch explained that her intention has always been to go back to a regular schedule, with all branches open, when the new Central Library opens in November 2016.
“It had always been our plan to do it this way,” said Branch. “Not that they are connected in any way.”
Branch said that she anticipated asking for money to reopen branches during the 2016 budget cycle in order to time it with the opening of the new, downtown branch.
“The citizens have adapted. Our stats have not gone down that greatly. I’m not saying they are happy with it, but they have adapted,” said Branch.She went on to say that if she had to make a list of the department’s unmet needs, re-extending the hours of the branches “wouldn’t be on this year’s list.”
“I didn’t expect to get very much this year because there’s not a lot of extra money. So I prioritized,” said Branch, who estimated that opening all of the city’s branches full time would cost a little more than $700,000.
“There are things that are really critical that would come before that,” said Branch.
The library has identified three critical technology needs that would make this year’s list. Of highest priority is an addition of Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID, security to the 11 branches that don’t have them.
RIFD allows library materials to be tagged, and tracked by a security system that sounds when people try to leave with materials that have not been checked out. It also would allow for patrons to check out their own materials through self-checkout, saving staff time.
“Right now we are in a dual system. We’re upgrading, and adding the RIFD, which is the current acknowledged system to use,” said Branch. “It’s not very effective or efficient to have dual systems.”
The plan for updating these systems was also tied to the opening of the new Central Library, explained Branch. She said that the department had hoped to phase in three updated systems each year, so by the time it opened, they would be on the same system as the Central Library.
So far only five libraries are on the RIFD system.
Branch also asked for money to replace the library’s failed printing system. Currently, librarians are manually collecting money for printing.
“It’s a laborious task for staff, and not very customer-friendly,” said Branch.
Finally, Branch asked for money in order to increase Internet bandwidth. That increase would accommodate Google Fiber. Branch made it clear that wasn’t the only purpose of an increase, though she said they wouldn’t be able to use Google Fiber without it.
“It’s not just Google Fiber. That’s a piece of it, but our bandwidth is inadequate right now. Our system is very slow,” said Branch.
Council Member Laura Morrison pointed out that there was a limited amount of time that a connection to Google Fiber would be offered free to the libraries, and stressed the importance of not missing the windows for any of the branches.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.
Austin Public Library: This is Austin's public library system, run by the city.