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Fort Worth's top librarian recommends closing three branches

FORT WORTH -- The best way to improve the city's library system is to close the three libraries -- Meadowbrook, Northside and Ridglea -- that are on the budget chopping block, the city's top librarian said Thursday.

Library Director Gleniece Robinson told City Council members during a budget workshop that she has worked in libraries for 40 years and knows what will improve Fort Worth's library system.

"We need to make a major turnaround in library services," Robinson said, adding that she realizes that not many librarians would advocate closing libraries. "We need to do it in order to provide a better quality service.

"Help us improve services ... by closing these obsolete facilities."

Robinson made her recommendation as residents citywide continue asking city leaders to keep the doors open to aging libraries that some residents use as a refuge, an escape, an inspiration and a meeting place.

"No other community facility ... speaks to the heart of a community like a library," said Councilman Sal Espino, who argued that the city should find the money to keep the libraries open. "These libraries have strong emotional connections to the adults and children.

"To cut the bonds there, it sends the wrong message about the type of community we want to be."

Recommendations in the 2011 city budget include closing the three libraries, reducing hours at two locations -- the Butler Outreach Library Division and the Cavile Opportunity Outreach Library -- and dropping the library materials budget by about $5 million. All that will save the city about $1.6 million, Robinson said.

At the same time the new Northwest Branch will open Oct. 30, and Sunday hours will be extended at the Southwest Regional Library and the East Regional Library, to help with demand if the three branches close. Robinson also said plans are under way to expand technology, from adding laptops to vending machines for checking out DVDs or books.

Councilman Carter Burdette said tough economic times call for tough decisions.

"We do not have a place in this budget ... to satisfy nostalgia," he said. "Change is coming, and we have to recognize it."

If the three branches are closed, Burdette said there still will be 13 libraries in the city. And that means that people will just have to travel a little farther to visit a library, he said.

"We cannot afford to put a library on every corner," Burdette said. "When we are in an economy like we are in today, everyone has got to hurt a little bit."

Council members also discussed health benefits for city employees and retirees, including adding benefits for domestic partners. But they didn't have time to discuss a proposal to merge the city's library and Parks/Community Services Department. They do plan to discuss that proposal, which would put more than 200 parks and public spaces under the Library Department, after their regular meeting Tuesday.

A city handout noted that the proposed consolidation would save $500,000, partly through eliminating four jobs, including the one now held by longtime Parks Director Richard Zavala.

The next public hearing on the budget will be at the regular council meeting, 10 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 1000 Throckmorton St.

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

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