Library funding seems to be one of the first things to go when city governments are forced to cut back on spending. And with the poor economy, much discussion of cutting library budgets was in the air in Dallas last year. This year, however, Dallas citizens voted in favor of a $55.5 million bond proposal, with much of the money meant to go toward refurbishing the central library and building eight branch libraries (five new ones and four replacements of current branches).

 

Clearly, Dallas isn’t willing to give up on its libraries.

 

The support of Dallas citizens is music to the ears of Preston Hollow area librarians Lynn Moore, branch manager of Preston Royal Branch Library, and Kjerstine Nielsen, branch manager of Walnut Hill Branch Library. Although Preston Royal will not be receiving any of the bond money, Walnut Hill is slated to be one of the replacement branches. Its portion of the funds will go toward acquiring a new site and building a new, larger building, though a schedule has yet to be set for when work will begin on the new facilities, says Sheila Scullock, assistant director for resource management for the Dallas Public Library.

 

“The community is excited because we’ve outgrown our branch, and the staff is excited because we’ll be better able to serve our community,” Nielsen says, adding that Walnut Hill’s current building is the oldest in the Dallas Public Library system, translating into maintenance problems.

 

But the bond’s approval is still somewhat tempered by the fact that the budget for acquiring new materials — books, videos, books-on-tape and others — while not decreasing, has not grown. Library program budgets have been reduced, and the library system is still under a selective hiring freeze, which has been going on for about two years, Scullock says.

 

“No one feels good about making cuts, but we know the city has to operate within budget. We do the best we can to manage resources. I was here during the ’80s, when we had to do it before. We just try to look out for the long-term good of the organization.”

 

The employees of the library branches also do their best to work with what they have.

 

“We work as a team, and despite these losses and no raises, we work to keep each other’s morale up,” Moore says.

 

Also helpful to the library during these slow economic times are donations from the community. Although Walnut Hill doesn’t have a Friends of the Library group, like many other Dallas libraries, the branch has regular patrons who help to keep up programs such as Pre-School Storytime, Creative Kids Club, Monday Matinee and other activities.

 

“I have a very creative staff who can do a lot of things with little money,” Nielsen laughs, though she adds that the library is still interested in establishing a Friends group to further their abilities to hold different programs throughout the year.

 

Part of what little money exists now goes toward a location for DISD-provided English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, since a portion of the community served by the branch library is Hispanic or are immigrants from other countries, Nielsen says. Her goal for the branch is to “continue to reach out to our community and increase cooperation with the local schools,” she says. “We want to encourage parents and children to come to our library and use our resources.

 

“The community has changed quite a bit lately, so we’re trying to include everyone,” she says.

 

The Preston Royal Branch, on the other hand, “gets the most use of any of the branch libraries, excluding downtown,” says Kaethryn Duncan. That can be attributed in part to the branch’s Friends group, for which Duncan is treasurer. The philanthropic group of neighborhood volunteers was formed in January 1996 and has provided invaluable support for the branch ever since, Moore says.

 

Most recently, the Library Friends bought four new aluminum benches to replace one solitary splintery bench that provided the only spot to sit outside, as well as planters to make the outside of the building more attractive. The group has raised funds to have the carpets cleaned, bought a table, three bookcases, stools for computer use and materials such as large-print books and books-on-tape. In addition the group helps provides funding for programs such as Toddler Time, Pre-School Storytime, and the Preston Royal Book Discussion Group.

 

“I thought after 30 years of using the library, I needed to give back,” says Library Friends President Ann Drees, who has lived in three Preston Hollow homes since 1971, but always within walking distance of the library.

 

Scullock says the branch support groups are “great advocates for the library.”

 

Drees says although the Preston Royal Library Friends would like to do more landscaping work around the library’s exterior and get better lighting both inside and outside the building. For now, however, the Library Friends’ “number one priority is to acquire new materials.”

 

“With different budgets always being cut, it’s important to help out with the shortfall the city was causing with the budget,” Duncan says.

 

However, Duncan and Drees agree the staff does a great job, despite limited budgets. And, though Drees says the library “has not suffered for lack of materials,” Duncan finds the budget cuts frustrating.

 

“They’re doing a great disservice to the community, like when they cut school budgets. This is education for the community, for the future. It provides a gateway to so much information that people can’t necessarily get in their own home,” Duncan says.

 

Nielsen agrees, pointing out that libraries offer “a place for the community to gather, for educational entertainment, and offer many services.”

 

Moore predicts the economy will improve and the hiring freeze will end soon. Though she notes the number of people using the library has increased during the past few years — probably because of the economy and the fact that a library offers a cost-free way to wile away some time — she says her main goal is always “to bring in more readers and new readers.”

 

“To see children first discover the joy of reading is a true joy,” Moore says.

 

 


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