Though the Warren Memorial Foundation is refusing to help fund services at Walker Memorial Library, the staff at the city-run facility is still hoping to get some extra help.

Last week, Mayor Bruce Chuluda received a letter from Bruce Saunders, president of the Warren board, turning down the City Council’s requests to meet with the board and to have it fund a position at Walker library to help absorb the increase in traffic expected when the Warren Memorial Library closes May 1. The Warren library is donating its 30,000 book and video collection to the Walker.

However, Walker Memorial Library Director Karen Valley hasn’t given up hope that another part-time position will be restored in the budget. She just has to get through to the councilors.

The library budget will be revisited at the Finance Committee’s final meeting on Monday, May 4, before it hands the budget over to the City Council. The library accounts for $509,684 in the mayor’s $55.8 million budget.

Before the announcement that the Warren library would be closing, Valley cut expenses in different areas of her budget, like audio visual materials and traveling, in order to fund a part-time employee to work on the circulation desk – one of two library positions eliminated in January when the city laid off nine people in order to make up for a $580,000 shortfall in revenue.

Now, Valley said, with the Warren library closing, she needs that other part-time position back, too.

The Warren library was known for its youth programming. Valley said its patrons are going to look to Walker to fill that gap, which is even more reason to bring back the part-time youth services employee.

Furthermore, the library will be looking for as many extra pairs of hands as it can get, as it faces the task of transporting Warren’s 30,000 books and videos across the street and integrating the donated collection into its own.

Valley said she hopes to save the city $25,000 she estimated it would cost to move the materials professionally, by rounding up enough volunteers to do the work over several weekends.

Though in his letter, Saunders said he was looking forward to working with the Walker library to transfer the collection, he didn’t indicate what kind of help the Warren board would offer.

However, he did specify that the board had no plans

“to directly fund the City’s payroll obligations to its library.” He also said the board wasn’t interested in having a discussion with the council because such a meeting “would add an undesirable political context to the Foundation’s work.”

Still, the city could get money from the foundation – through taxes. Working with the Warren board’s real estate attorney, City Assessor Elizabeth Sawyer is trying to determine whether the foundation’s nonprofit status had been jeopardized because the board rents office space to SB Acquisitions, formerly Saunders Bros. If it is determined that the foundation cannot claim nonprofit status, then it would owe taxes to the city.

Warren board member Rene Daniel said if the nonprofit status is jeopardized, the board will cease renting the space. Sawyer said she doesn’t intend to go after the board for back taxes, if that is the case.

But the city isn’t banking on tax money coming in from the foundation, and is still facing the challenge of handling more materials at Walker with fewer people.

Because Walker is getting such a large donation of materials, councilors thought it might make sense to reallocate money designated for purchasing new books in order to fund another part-time position.

According to Assistant Library Director Marian Peterson, that’s not how libraries work.

“Libraries are dynamic places,” she said. When people come in looking for a new book, “they want the bestseller that’s on today’s bestseller list,” she said, not last year’s.

“It’s like stale bread,” Peterson said.

It’s still Valley’s hope that the city will step forward and add money to the budget in order to fund the position, but Chuluda doesn’t think that’s too likely.

Chuluda said his impression from the council is that it’s premature to fund positions based on the assumption that there will be a significant impact on Walker’s services due to Warren’s closure, and that’s a sentiment he shares.

“I think there will be some impact to Walker,” he said, “but we don’t really know what that impact is going to be.”

Though undoubtedly some Warren patrons will start using Walker a lot more, Chuluda said, many are already Walker patrons, and there are others who don’t even live in the city.

“We’ve got to provide basic services,” he said about his priorities in his budget proposal. “We’re asking everyone to share the pain.”

Valley and Peterson anticipate a lot of hard work in the months ahead, and have noticed the Warren patrons starting to get comfortable using the library. Valley said the children’s book group from Warren has begun meeting at Walker, and four new members have joined the adult book club.

“We may all be in the loony bin before we’re through,” Peterson said, thinking about the amount of work that lies ahead, but, in the long run, she said, it will be worth it.

“To be better and stronger as the end result, that’s key,” said Peterson.


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