Memphis City Council Nixes Mayor’s Branch Closures

Memphis City Council Nixes Mayor’s Branch Closures

A Memphis (Tenn.) City Council budget committee nixed May 14 Mayor Willie Herenton’s proposal to transition the Memphis Public Library and Information Center from a neighborhood-library system to a regional model by closing five branches for a $2-million savings while appropriating $1 million to buy land on which to build two regional facilities.

The one point on which the mayor’s office and the council agreed was that the downtown Cossitt branch be closed because of its deteriorating condition. The first-ever public library site in Memphis, the original facility opened in 1893 and was rebuilt in 1959.

Councilman Bill Boyd shared with American Libraries a letter he sent concerned constituents about his April fact-finding visit to the sites earmarked for closing. Boyd wrote about his discovery that one of the branches had “in excess of 100,000 visitors in 2007 and another is located in an area which will become increasingly more populated by young families in the immediate future.” Characterizing libraries as “extremely valuable city resources from which the citizens derive a great benefit,” he noted, “Like most of my colleagues, I have received many letters and phone calls from citizens to express their dismay about the proposal to close libraries” and stated his opposition to closing any branches except for the dilapidated Cossitt, for which “I am pursuing an alternative location.”

Opposition to halt Herenton’s plan was so strong that Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware moved to strike the $1 million for regional-library sites before a mayoral official could even present the library budget proposal. “Can you allow us to present what the recommendations for the libraries are?” asked Kenneth Moody, director of the Division of Public Services and Neighborhoods. “I’ll give you that courtesy,” Ware responded, according to the May 15 Memphis Commercial Appeal, motioning again to strike the sum after Moody’s presentation.

Curtis White of the Friends of the Poplar–White Station branch, which had been slated for closure, expressed relief that his and the Gaston, Highland, and Levi libraries seem to be saved. “There’s too many people who use the libraries for resource material,” he told the Commercial Appeal.

Posted on May 16, 2008. Discuss.