NOPL executive director warns of cuts if funding is not increased

The New Orleans Public Library could be forced to cut hours and day of service or close branches if it continues to use its dwindling reserve funds to help shore up losses its has suffered because of reduced funding.

That was the message from Charles Brown, the NOPL’s executive director, during a recent presentation to the City Council.

The library was able to build its reserves after Hurricane Katrina, but that pool of money has begun to dry because of operating costs of five new libraries that have been built in recent years.

The library receives no money from the city’s general fund. Rather it gets its funding through a millage.

The adopted 2013 budget gives the library a 3.14 millage rate that generates $12.1 million. The library received $16.3 million in 2012.

The last time the NOPL received any general fund dollars was in 2008 and 2009 when it got $240,000 and $500,000, respectively.

The only way to increase the amount the library receives next year would be for the council to increase the millage rate.

With the cut in funding and increased use of its reserve fund, Brown said there could be cuts within the next year and a half.

“By the end of 2013, or the very beginning of 2015, there will be no reserves remaining,” Brown said. “We will be solely dependent on our current millage fund with no other supplement to it.”

“When you lose that much money there are consequences.”

Already, Brown said, the NOPL operates its five new libraries at “minimal” levels. Brown oversees 14 libraries across the city and 151 full-time employees.

If the library loses more money in the future, there could be cuts to operating hours and days or even closures of entire branches, Brown said.

Also in limbo would be the Nora Navra Branch in the 7th Ward.

While there is capital money to repair post-Katrina damage, there might not be money to actually operate it once it is ready to reopen, Brown said.

Increasing the library’s funding, Brown said, is not only necessary to ensure services remain intact but to add products.

Brown said that there is a perception that fewer people read books these days, but the library has a robust customer base, he said.

Additionally, there are new things to buy, such as e-books and DVDs.

To remain relevant, the library needs to “spend more than ever,” Brown told the council.

In the meantime, Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell suggested the library might try to increase the number of volunteers it uses to help operations, if nothing else.

Councilman James Gray also suggested trying to increase the number of volunteers and possible shuffling of existing staff in an effort to streamline operations, though there are no signs that would save the library any money.