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Politics

Jacksonville Library Requests More Hours; Council Says No To Extra Money For Programs

The Jacksonville Public Library sent over a new budget proposal to the City Council Finance Committee, Tuesday.

That’s after the committee told library managers not to count on money they had requested for new programs and outreach.

The revised plan includes a 10 percent increase in open library hours; that’s 88 hours at 11 different locations.

Isaiah James is sitting at a study table in the back of the Southeast Public Library near the University of North Florida, Tuesday.

“Today I’m actually looking for a job,” James said. “[I’m] using the Internet, also studying Spanish since I aspire to be a bilingual attorney as well.”

This is his routine. He comes here most days to do his job search around productive people, he says. But this library opens later than he’d like — 1 p.m. today. And it’s closed on Mondays.

That’s because a few years ago, Jacksonville’s public libraries were hit with a 22 percent budget cut. James remembers.

“You know I was upset when I found out that the hours were cut,” James said. “I think libraries are something really important in the community. You know when I was younger my parents used to take me to the library during the summer and I used to sit here and just read.”

Library spokeswoman Kathy Lussier says the cuts are still hurting.

“That meant we needed to eliminate 70 positions and drastically reduce our hours of operation,” Lussier said.

But for the first time in 10 years, there aren’t any proposed library budget cuts. Last week, the city’s finance committee voted to tentatively set aside an extra $1 million for libraries.

Lussier says her team put together a money-spending plan: stay open more hours, and create new services and programs to draw people inside their doors.

She says if the doors are open, people have to have a reason to come.

But then, City Council contacted the library this week.

“They wanted us to go back to the drawing board and come back with a plan to take that million dollars and only spend it on library hours,” Lussier said.

Lussier says her committee will have to figure out other ways to fund important library programs.

The new proposal submitted Tuesday would allow for eight more hours at four regional libraries, and also eight hours at the four Urban Core branches. There is also a request for some of those hours to go toward more youth services librarians.