Citing required cost-saving measures in the next city budget, Louisville Free Public Library director Jim Blanton emailed staff last week to inform them of major changes coming at the main downtown branch, including transferring over a third of its staff to new and expanded libraries and consolidating all services to the first floor.

In Greg Fischer’s budget address to Metro Council last Thursday, the mayor announced that his proposed budget for the next fiscal year would deal with a $19 million increase in pension and health insurance costs “through a combination of cuts and efficiencies spread across Metro agencies.”

Though 49 staff positions would be lost due to attrition and city services would be impacted, Fischer said these efficiencies could be implemented without any layoffs or complete eliminations of any specific service.

The mayor’s budget proposal does not list LFPL as one of the agencies that will lose staff due to attrition — not filling newly open positions. However, according to the email from Blanton sent on Wednesday and forwarded to Insider Louisville by several sources, some staff at the main downtown branch would be moved to the new Northeast Regional Library and the renovated and expanded St. Matthews branch when both are completed next spring, which could affect its services.

LFPL currently has 190 full-time workers and 108 regular part-time workers, according to the mayor’s budget proposal.

The current services and resources provided on the first and second floors of the LFPL’s main downtown branch | Via LFPL

Noting the need for cost-savings measures, Blanton wrote in his memo that the library would eliminate the budget for AmeriCorps VISTA workers and now close on Christmas Eve, in addition to consolidating all adult services to just the first floor of the downtown branch north building.

The second floor of the downtown branch — currently housing a wide variety of books and resources, as well as the Library Learning Center and Job Shop — would now serve as a remote storage area, according to Blanton, with a hope “to offer space to partners and community service organizations.”

The LFPL director stated that this realignment “will allow us to transfer some Main staff” to the Northeast and St. Matthews branch when both facilities are done next spring, but added that “with any realignment and cost savings measure there may be some services provided by Main that will be affected. As the process moves forward we will identify these changes and communicate them to all involved.”

LFPL spokesman Paul Burns told Insider on Monday that there are currently 54 public service employees at the downtown branch, and the plan is to transfer 18 of these workers to the new Northeast Regional brand and two to the St. Matthews branch when work on both facilities is complete next spring.

Blanton wrote that staff at the main branch would be surveyed on whether they wanted to be transferred and to which branch. He also mentioned that capital funds would be used for much-needed updates on the first floor of the main branch, including “new staff furniture and work areas, public furniture, new carpet, rearranging shelving, new paint, new computer stations, and a new service desk.”

However, Blanton also mentioned the challenges this would bring for library staff, as “changes such as these are difficult and stressful.”

“My hope is that within this challenge we can embrace the opportunities presented,” wrote Blanton, adding that “we’ve faced challenges before and have prevailed through ingenuity and dedication — and we’re going to get through this one.”

According to the mayor’s proposed budget, the main branch renovations for the first floor will involve $350,000 in capital funds.

Fischer’s budget also proposes $3.85 million in capital funds toward the final payment for construction of the Northeast Regional Library, with the mayor saying in his budget address that this branch will be “spectacular,” with “40,000 square feet of space and a sustainable, eco-friendly and efficient design.”

The mayor took a moment in his address to thank and acknowledge the staff in all 18 of the city’s public libraries “for the incredible work they do serving citizens every day, adapting to new technologies and the changing needs of the public they serve.”

Noting the combination of cuts, efficiencies and payroll reductions through attrition in his proposed budget, Fischer also stated that “we’ve worked to implement cuts and reductions in a way that’s fair and minimizes the impact on city services, though, let’s be clear: there will be an impact.”

Burns of LFPL also told Insider on Monday that despite these budgetary challenges, “we are pleased that the Library is not losing any positions, we are not reducing hours of service, and we are still able to open the new Northeast Regional Library and the newly renovated and expanded St. Matthews Library on schedule.”

He noted that even with the changes to the main downtown library, “this facility will still have the largest square footage available for public use of any of our regional libraries, and the largest collection,” adding that “we hope to bring some of the innovative program offerings that we have at the other regionals to downtown patrons as well — like makers-spaces, artists-in-residence, etc.”

Steve Haag, the director of Metro Council’s Republican caucus, is wary of what impact attrition and other efficiencies will have on city services, as the council will now begin to dissect and discus the specifics of the budget over the next two months before it must be passed.

“Council members will certainly be interested to learn more about the plans stated within this (LFPL) memo, as well as the other plans for reducing workforce through attrition,” wrote Haag in an email to Insider.

Haag added that Metro Parks, Public Works and Animal Services are three agencies facing attrition, with Parks having a long history of difficulty keeping up with the amount of maintenance required. Metro Parks is not filling four full-time, four part-time and 10 seasonal positions, while Public Works is letting 10 full-time positions go unfilled. Despite the fact that Metro Animal Services will get a new animal shelter this year, that department is not hiring for one position.

“We will be interested to see if the library positions lead to a reduction of services, and if it puts branches that already lack backups in the events of illness to be more at risk of unplanned closures,” wrote Haag.

Councilman Bill Hollander, the Democratic chair of the council’s budget committee, told Insider that “as part of the budget review, we will be exploring all of the Library’s plans, including the Northeast Regional, an expanded St. Matthews Library and proposed changes at Main,” noting the $350,000 capital project to renovate Main.

Ashley Sims — a teen services library assistant at the Shawnee branch and, the chief union steward of library workers’ AFSCME Local 3425 — told Insider on Monday that employees are concerned about the changes, noting that “libraries are safe places for patrons and their services are needed more than ever when times get hard, but unfortunately our budgets are often among the first to be cut.”

“My main reaction for this announcement is concern, both for employees and for patrons,” said Sims. “I think library administration is in a very bad place due to budget considerations, and I really appreciate that they found a solution that won’t result in any staff members losing their jobs. That said, we will be seeing a reduction of services at the Main Library and in general this feels like a preparation for very hard times.”

Chandra Gordon, the executive director of the LFPL Foundation, told Insider that they are “not weighing in beyond what we’ve already stated on social media,” in which they expressed appreciation for the funding in Fischer’s budget and the dedication of library employees who provide services.

“The Library Foundation and the Friends of the Library are appreciative of funding for LFPL designated in the Mayor’s budget address, especially those dedicated to the completion of the Northeast Regional Library,” states a Facebook post by The Library Foundation. “Metro government provides the largest source of funding for our Louisville Free Public Library system and this system provides critical support for our community.”

This story has been updated.

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]


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