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City proposes ditching Recycled Reads

Wednesday, January 30, 2019 by Jack Craver

Some City Council members are alarmed at a proposal from city staff to phase out Recycled Reads, a service operated by the library system that repurposes, recycles or sells books that are discarded by the library or donated by residents.

Staffers have asked Council to approve a contract subleasing much of the space at RR’s current facility at 5335 Burnet Road to Austin Creative Reuse, a nonprofit currently located on Interstate 35 that repurposes discarded items, sometimes by incorporating them into works of art.

Under the terms of the contract, ACR would take over 62 percent of the space at the Burnet facility, while the library would “carry on its book recycling activities” in the remainder of the space until the lease is up in 2022, at which point Recycled Reads would end.

Currently, the library is the sole tenant of the site, which is owned by Pajo Properties Ltd., which has agreed to the sublease plan.

“The current (library) strategy is to phase out the concept of a used book store, but to pursue those activities in the branch libraries or at periodic book fairs,” explained a staff memo. In the meantime, subleasing the property to another organization “would relieve APL of much of its financial burden at the site.”

A few Council members did not receive the idea warmly. Council Member Kathie Tovo noted that Recycled Reads has received national recognition, including a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Beyond offering inexpensive books to the community, she said, the organization has played a crucial part in the city’s zero-waste initiative to divert material from the landfill.

Council Member Leslie Pool similarly argued that Council’s goal was not simply to recycle material or offer discount books, but specifically to preserve Recycled Reads.

Interim Assistant City Manager Sara Hensley said that staff members were simply trying to be creative and cut costs in seeking out the partnership with Austin Creative Reuse.

“The whole goal here is to reduce cost to the General Fund,” she said. “It was not an effort to wipe out Recycled Reads.”

Council Member Alison Alter pushed back. The item on Council’s agenda clearly states that Recycled Reads will cease to exist, she pointed out.

“There’s a disconnect between what is being presented as the vision and what is in the (staff memo), which basically says it will disappear in three years,” she said. “I am extremely alarmed by what happens at the end of three years.”

Council Member Pio Renteria was the only one to express support for the idea, saying that he liked the idea of offering more books for sale at branch libraries, making them more accessible to his constituents who live far away from Recycled Reads.

Tovo noted that there are already books for sale at branch libraries: “Just doubling the shelf space at our branch libraries isn’t going to have the impact” that the current facility offers in terms of landfill diversion.

Mayor Steve Adler reminded his colleagues that staffers may have been operating under guidance they received in a very different political context. When Council approved the current contract in 2015, he said, some members of Council were very skeptical of spending any money on the program.

“Given the votes on the dais at that point, it was in a precarious position,” he said.

Indeed, then-Council members Don Zimmerman and Ellen Troxclair were frequent opponents of environmental or cultural programs and were often joined in opposition by Council members Ora Houston and Sheri Gallo.

Although the item is scheduled for action on Thursday, staff has requested a postponement.

Photo from Facebook.

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