This story has been updated with the correct number of library positions that would be eliminated under the proposed budget. It is 31. An incorrect number was initially provided by library officials.
Four branches of the Milwaukee Public Library — two each on the city's north and south sides — would face cuts to hours and programming, and the King Library would temporarily close, under a budget proposal now before the Common Council for consideration.
Library officials have not decided which of the 12 branches would lose programming and see a drop in hours. The budget, the first proposed under new Mayor Cavalier Johnson, is to get a vote by the council in early November.
Council members could decide to restore the cuts, or reduce them, by making other adjustments.
In one scenario proposed as a possibility by the library director last week, the Bay View and Zablocki library branches on the south side and the Atkinson and Capitol branches on the north side would see cuts in hours and services.
But Milwaukee Public Library Director Joan Johnson stressed that library officials have not made a final decision and invited other suggestions. The final decision will be made at a future meeting of the Milwaukee Public Library Board of Trustees. The board meets almost every month; its next meeting is 4 p.m. Oct. 25.
The reductions were proposed as a way to help rein in municipal costs that — without major cuts — were projected to outstrip revenues next year.
Library officials had asked the city budget office for $27.7 million next year, enough to keep the libraries running normally, Johnson said. But in the end, they were allotted about $25.8 million in the mayor's proposed budget, or about $1.9 million less.
"This is the biggest cut I have ever seen since I started working here in 2006," Johnson said at a meeting last week of the library's board of trustees.
4 libraries would see reduced services, hours; 31 positions will be eliminated
Because of the cost-cutting, the library will eliminate 31 positions, Johnson said, most of which will simply not be filled when employees leave or retire.
Under the proposal, downsized branches would be open five days of the week instead of six, would limit use of computers and community rooms, and would no longer offer programming, according to a summary of the budget proposal.
They would still offer circulation services, such a checking out books and picking up book holds.
It is unclear which five days of the week the downsized libraries would remain open. The budget proposal says those libraries would eliminate Saturday hours, but some have suggested instead cutting hours on Mondays.
A librarian would be added to three branches, one each on the north side, south side and in the central part of the city, to help provide more outreach to the areas affected by reduced library services.
King Library would close until new building opens
The proposed closure of the King Library branch would be temporary, Budget Director Nik Kovac told the council's Finance Committee last week. He said the closure reflects the construction expected to begin next year of the new King branch building.
However, while in the past the city has created "temporary libraries" as close as possible to a library under construction, that won't be possible with the King branch because of the city's fiscal constraints, he said.
That proposal was not popular with Ald. Milele Coggs, who represents the area where the library is located, or with residents, who expressed their frustration at a town hall meeting last week.
"It is imperative that we invest in our libraries now more than ever," said Coggs, who also serves on the library's board of trustees, in a statement in which she pledged to try to reverse at least some of the cuts.
Other branches, Central library wouldn't change hours
The remaining seven branch libraries would continue to be open Monday through Saturday at their current hours.
The downtown Central library's days and hours of operations would also be unchanged. It's open seven days per week from October through April, and Monday-Saturday at other times of the year.
Libraries had just begun adding back services, hours after pandemic
The proposed cuts come just as the library is fully emerging from the pandemic. Only in June did the library restore hours to all 13 locations and reopen all meeting rooms and public spaces.
During much of the pandemic, the library scaled back hours, put in-person indoor programming on hold and closed off parts of the libraries to the public. To compensate, the library expanded virtual programming, offered curbside pickup for library materials and lent Wi-Fi hotspots and Chromebooks to library users for at-home use.
Cuts are unlikely at the Good Hope and Mitchell Street branch locations, library officials indicated at last week's board meeting, because of the money recently poured into those buildings. Along with the Washington Park Library, they are the largest locations in the library system.
They each also have a maker space, which are collaborative work spaces with specialized equipment, such as 3D printers and laser cutters. The maker spaces are designed to help library users build skills critical to certain industries, such as engineering and design.
No cuts were planned at the Center Street, East or Washington Park library branches because of the expected closure of the nearby King Library, Johnson said.
Reporter Alison Dirr, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel staff, contributed to this report.
Sarah Volpenhein is a reporter who focuses on news of value to underserved communities. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can support work like hers through our newsroom's Report for America effort. More information can be found at JSOnline.com/RFA.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee libraries could see hours, staff cut under city budget