As part of sweeping cutbacks to the Madison Library System’s operations, the Library Board voted on Thursday to shut down the Monroe Street branch for all of 2021.
In a 5-4 vote, board members recommended a budget that would cut five percent, or about one million dollars, from the system’s 2021 budget. The tight decision came after the board reviewed seven different possible budgets.
In addition to the closure of the Monroe Street branch, the approved budget will reduce hours at several other branches, cut half of the system’s program and supply budget and eliminate late fines for overdue materials.
The adopted budget will also cut 23 jobs throughout the library system. According to Tana Elias, Marketing Manager for the Madison Public Library, most of the positions up for termination are currently unfilled.
The board’s proposal to cut back library operations, and particularly the closure of the Monroe Street Branch, was met with public backlash. Board President Jaime Healy-Plotkin, who is a librarian herself, said that the cutbacks were a difficult choice for board members.
“We are all volunteers and we are doing this as our civic duty. We all love libraries,” she said. “We have been put in an impossible decision. No library board should be making these kinds of decisions.”
The Monroe Street library’s size was one of the major factors in its closure. The library, which has 800 square feet of public space according to Isthmus, would require significant alterations to allow for social distancing.
In its current state, the library would only be open to about five patrons at a time at fifty percent capacity.
The library also supports primarily higher-income patrons. Several board members supported closing the Monroe Street library to fund library operations in the city’s lower-income neighborhoods.
“I want to say that we are committed to dismantling structural racism,” said board member Cindy Fesemyer. “We can do that by heartily supporting our predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods. In a time of scarce resource…that means we have to reduce our traditional support of dominant culture.”
Alder Tag Evers, who represents the area that the Monroe Street branch services, expressed concern that the temporary closure of the library may become permanent. He also pushed back against the suggestion that Monroe Street caters exclusively to higher-income patrons.
“I share the concern that, once closed, the arguments made this evening could be used to keep it closed,” he said. “Not all residents in this service area are wealthy. There are a number of elderly residents on fixed incomes.”
The library system’s budget cuts come as the city continues to adjust to the economic impact of COVID-19.
In late May, Mayor Rhodes-Conway told city agencies to slash five percent off their budgets for 2021. According to The Wisconsin State Journal, the cuts are in preparation for a predicted 20-25 million dollar budgetary deficit next year.
Despite the economic uncertainty, Healy-Plotkin says that the board would be open to reopening the Monroe Street branch if the city’s economic situation improves in 2021. Under Wisconsin state law, Madison’s Library’s budget can be revised midway through the year, which could allow the branch library to reopen before 2022.
“It is the purview of the library board to reassess their budget at any point in the year. That’s why, when the city budget comes out, it actually says the ‘Budget and Library Fund.’ It’s very specific how separate the budget is.”
The Madison Public Library’s proposed budget will now go to the Mayor’s office for inclusion in the 2021 Executive Budget. The mayor’s comprehensive city budget will then be voted on by the Common Council this November.