The award-winning Library of Birmingham (LB), which garnered applause and approval across the U.K. when it was built in 2013, is about to fall on hard times. After opening to great fanfare a little over a year ago, the library has been finding it hard to keep up with costs, citing a lack of private sponsorship and the Birmingham City Council’s (BCC) failure to raise promised money from land sales. Then at the end of 2014 the BCC announced a round of austerity measures that will cut some £72 million in funding for the arts, parks and recreation, care services, cemeteries, and children’s care services for 2015–16. Approximately £1.5 million will be cut from LB’s annual £10 million operating costs, meaning that 100 of the library’s 188 staff could be eliminated, and its hours reduced from 73 to 40 per week.
New York City’s libraries get a fair amount of attention, but all too rarely is it directed to the branches. Those neighborhood hubs arguably have the greatest impact and potential, cultivating the essential connection to the community at the most local levels in more than 207 buildings. Unfortunately, according to the Center for an Urban Future, they are also at risk. The time has arrived to embrace a new citywide strategy to deliver excellent library services to all New Yorkers.
Acting on a complaint from a Mecklenburg County (NC) commissioner, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library (CML) officials last week removed signs providing information about a referendum on a proposed sales tax increase, which would benefit the library, from all 14 branches serving as early voting locations.
In the wake of accusations that suspended Queens Library (QL) president and CEO Thomas W. Galante mishandled library funds, Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer (D–Queens) proposed legislation on October 21 that would require all three of New York’s public library systems to publicly disclose how their money is spent.
San Antonio, TX, made library headlines when it opened BiblioTech, the nation’s first all-digital library, which turned one year old only a few weeks ago. Now it could do so again, but for a less positive reason: a city-county financial dispute that some officials are warning could eventually result in the loss of library privileges for as many as 400,000 residents.
Since 2006, the Knight News Challenge has encouraged innovators to respond to open calls on a series of themes—past challenge topics have included networks, open government, and strengthening the Internet. On Sept. 10 the Knight Foundation opened the most recent News Challenge: How might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities?
From the Andrew Carnegie–era temples of learning to the small cinderblock “Lindsay boxes” built during Mayor John Lindsay’s administration from 1966–1973, New York City’s 207 library branches are as varied as its population. And like much of the city, they are feeling the crunch of budget cuts and neglect.