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New Orleans library asking public where to invest money following millage approval

By Robert McClendon

NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

October 13, 2015

Armed with an annual influx of up $8.2 million, thanks to a newly approved property tax increase, the New Orleans Public Library is asking the community how it should invest that money.

The library has scheduled four community meetings to identify services patrons use the most and the kinds of services they want to see expanded in the future.

The meetings are scheduled for:

Oct. 19, 6:30 p.m., Algiers Regional Library, 3014 Holiday Drive;
Oct. 20, 7 p.m., Main Library, 219 Loyola Ave.;
Oct. 21, 6 p.m., NORD-C Lyons Center, 634 Louisiana Ave.;
Oct. 22, 6 p.m., Norman Mayer Library, 3001 Gentilly Blvd.
The library has also created an online survey to further document what the community wants.

Public input, together with suggestions from staff members, will guide the creation of a strategic plan, the library system’s first in recent memory. “This is the first time we’ve done a community input session and survey,” said John Marc Sharpe, a spokesman for the library.

The absence of a strategic plan in May led the Bureau of Governmental Research, a watchdog group, to urge voters to reject a 2.5 mill increase in the library’s property tax.

Voters approved the millage anyway by a margin of 50 percent. The new money will nearly double the library’s budget from $9.5 million to $17 million when it goes into effect in 2016.

The library has for the last several years run a deep annual deficit, rapidly burning through a kitty of reserves. Library leaders said the shortfall, had the extra millage failed, would have forced deep cuts, including the closure of half the city’s 14 branches.

“We knew that we need a strategic plan,” Sharpe said, but he added it was impossible to create one with so much uncertainty surrounding the budget. “We needed to know what we were working with before we moved forward,” he said.

There’s no plan to expand the library system’s footprint beyond the addition of the future Nora Navra branch in the 7th Ward, which was already in the works. It’s set to open in 2017.

Instead, much of the additional money will be used to expand the library’s hours of operation by 30 percent. Six libraries will be open every day, including weekends, and the remaining branches will open six days a week, Sharpe said.

The remaining money will be used to improve and expand the library’s services, he said.

“We want to make an investment in our collections, and in our technology, and in our programs, but we need to do it in such a way that it is really going to benefit the community the most,” Sharpe said.

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