Good evening Council Members:
Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on a subject dear to me, the support of our community libraries. My name is Wayne Finley, and I live at 309 16th Ave NE in St. Petersburg. I am here tonight as president of the Friends of Mirror Lake Library.
I have looked at your proposed budget, and I was pleased to see that you have included $43K for enhancements to our libraries for technology upgrades, which I understand includes computers, something that is very important to us at the Mirror Lake Library for we were at the bottom of the pile for wait time to get onto a computer, with our patrons having a typical 1-hr wait to get access.
But I am here to ask you to consider more.
In particular, we need our libraries open longer hours and on Sundays. The library system has been transitioning our libraries from being known as branch libraries to community libraries, a positive step towards recognizing that libraries are transitioning from traditional libraries to community hubs which function as not just learning environments that serve our communities, but representing that they can act as places for citizens to meet, engage and learn, to enter into collaborative and co-working relationships to develop new businesses, to teach early reading skills, to provide safe environments for children and teens, and for all of us to develop new skills to become a better fit for today’s workplace and to find greater civic engagement.
Joining a Friends group is one such example. The Friends of Mirror Lake Library just celebrated its 3rd year as an incorporated entity, and in those three years, we have raised and spent over $10,000 in support of our library and have held events that have brought hundreds of new patrons to it.
We host a quarterly author series, and since 2011 have welcomed 9 authors that have drawn in over 300 hundred folks from throughout our community.
In 2012 we sponsored a plein air art event that saw 20 artists painting among the grounds and providing us with a collection of beautiful new original artwork that showcases our beautiful gem.
And each summer we have sponsored the youth at Mirror Lake Library who participate in the Youth Summer Reading Program.
These are just a few of the ways we have worked to encourage folks within the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods to “Reconnect and Reacquaint” themselves with our library, but it can be difficult due to closing times too early – Mirror Lake only stays open until 7pm two nights a week, and the fact that our community library isn’t open on Sunday when many residents are interested in visiting.
Our libraries have been one of the hardest hit when the last economic downturn hit the nation, and saw some of the deepest cuts – some elements in excess of nearly 60 percent from what had been. Personnel have been cut to the bone, and our infrastructure is in need of rehabilitation.
Our library is in need of a new elevator or an overhaul of the existing one, for it is very slow and very loud, which effects how well patrons in the back can hear during our authors lectures and also gets stuck every now and then with people on it. We need new furniture, and even though there has been an influx of new technology, we still need more computers and the furniture to put them on.
I would like to remind all of you that Mirror Lake Library is St. Petersburg’s original library, and it is only public one for 50 years. The Friends, along with the city and various other folks and groups from within our community are working on a slew of activities to mark our 100th anniversary – in fact we are preparing a calendar of events that will host 100 in 100.
As part of this celebration, the Friends are hosting a fundraising campaign to fulfill our wish list, which we composed in concert with city staff. We will be looking to raise another $10,000 for our Dreaming Big Wish List, and will be asking the community to raise the match in the same manner as it was built, because the Carnegie grant of $17,500 had to be met dollar for dollar by the citizens – and they did. We are appealing to that sense of generosity and concern by asking folks to put up a match if you will to bring our little gem into the 21st century.
I would like to propose to all of you that perhaps the city would like to be engaged in this endeavor, and match the funds raised by the Friends to support this cultural icon of our city.
I also ask that you consider putting a few more thousand dollars into a fund that might help support some of the bigger events we will be hosting throughout 2015.
I will leave you with this tidbit about libraries I share with anyone who will listen. There are those who would say that libraries have become irrelevant what with all of the new technology and other outlets.
What I say to that is libraries may have become irrelevant to those with means; however, to the low-income earning folks throughout our community, libraries are essential for access to free reading materials, free events such as author lectures, and places of learning for their children through our children’s reading programs, especially our out of school time youth summer reading program. Libraries have become the new social service centers that no one knows about.
Well tonight, you now know. Thank you again for your time and I hope you continue to bolster our library system, not just fund it at its current levels.