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Library staff holds the line on 2015 funds

Thursday, August 14, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Despite the imminence of a glowing new Central Library on the horizon, the library department kept it humble Wednesday afternoon.

As part of the city’s budget process, City Council heard from Brenda Branch, director of the Austin Public Library department. Branch presented her $36.8 million budget along with an overview of the city’s public library system.

Branch did not include a proposition to increase funding for adult programming, though City Council members brought up the idea, which has been gathering support over the past few months.

The group Nerds Love APL, which is associated with Nerd Night Austin, has requested an increase in funding that would go toward adult programming in an effort to provide services for some of the younger adults moving to Austin. The group is asking for a $534,000 increase for new equipment, maker programming, entrepreneurial support programs and five new full-time employees.
Branch acknowledged the popularity of the campaign, but explained it wasn’t her foremost concern this budget cycle.

“Of all of our priorities, and the limited staffing, that was not one of the top priorities,” said Branch. “But we’re getting a lot of pressure from the community, who would like to see more and more adult programming. I can tell you, whenever you offer it, we have overwhelming attendance. It’s clear that’s something that the community is asking for. With every staff member that we add, we can add a certain amount of programming.”

Branch said the new Central Library, scheduled to open in November 2016, would be a huge civic center that will have “a lot of maker faire kinds of opportunities.” She said her department would love to expand that programming into other branches, but that was dependent on equipment and staffing.

In a year in which the city is trying to keep costs — and property taxes — as low as possible, Branch’s requests were geared more toward basic services. Those include funding for Radio Frequency Identification System installation at branch libraries for inventory control and security; new software for sign-up, scanning and printing; and hardware costs so that Google Fiber Internet service will be available at the city’s libraries.

Branch said that a new program at the Carver Branch Library offering one-on-one computer training and employment assistance has been very successful. That programming is now expanding to the Willie Mae Kirk Branch Library.

When asked to choose her most important unmet need, Branch identified an increase in security guards, saying that incidents requiring their intervention are increasing.

Branch also required some prompting from Council members to broach the subject of returning all of the libraries to a full schedule. She said she planned to return the libraries to full hours when the Central Library opened, and didn’t believe that this year was the right time to reintroduce the $703,000 cost to the city budget.

“It’s not that I object to adding the hours. It’s just that it’s probably not the right year to ask for it,” said Branch.

Council plans to discuss library innovation and technology programming at the Emerging Technology and Telecommunications Committee meeting Wednesday.

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