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Is the historic Carnegie Library going to reopen?

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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Depending on who’s talking, the downtown Carnegie Library might reopen after a two-year hiatus this July.

That’s if Lincoln City Council were to OK a library budget that would fund two staff members to be at the Carnegie Library a few days a week.

The Carnegie Library closed June 29, 2011 due to budget cuts made by City Council to balance the General Fund. The 2011-2012 library budget also cut its library director position from full time to part time and the Twelve Bridges Library remained open 23 hours weekly.

At the same time, police, fire and recreation services were significantly reduced because expenditures in the city’s General Fund would have exceeded city revenue.

Jane Tahti, the nonprofit Friends of the Lincoln Library secretary recently wrote in two of her guest columns in The News Messenger that “Carnegie Library is currently closed, due to lack of city funding. Watch for and join the efforts of The Friends of the Lincoln Public Library in re-opening the Carnegie.”

But Lincoln City Manager Jim Estep told The News Messenger on Tuesday that the downtown library will not open in the new fiscal year that begins July 1.

 “There have been no discussions to date regarding reopening Carnegie Library as our funding situation has not changed. It is not being contemplated for next year’s budget since there is no additional funding available,” Estep said. “While it is not staff’s decision to make, if funding were to become available, I believe the council’s direction would most likely be to increase hours at Twelve Bridges Library before considering reopening Carnegie as that would be a more efficient use of the limited resources.”

With that said, there is still hope that the Carnegie won’t stay closed long-term.

“Everyone would love for the Carnegie to be open. That would be great,” said Lincoln Interim Library Director Jon Torkelson. “But we have to have the funding and the staff to do that. That’s a long-term process. I’d love it to be short term, but to have the Carnegie open and scheduled, it would be a big chunk of change.”

Saying that the budget is in the preliminary discussions, Torkelson “can’t anticipate the Carnegie reopening in July.”

“We need to be more certain about funding for all the city’s services,” Torkelson said.

Since the Carnegie on the corner of Fifth and F streets is a two-story building, two staff members would have to be there during open hours.

“A rough estimate of the Carnegie being open 24 hours a week would cost about $50,000, including staff and utilities,” Torkelson said.

Plus there has to be enough money in the library budget that keeps the Twelve Bridges Library open.

“We’re trying to figure it out but we’re thinking the most efficient, least expensive plan is to have more hours at Twelve Bridges,” Torkelson said. “Any library hours we have more than now would be great. But I want to be realistic and all our city services have needs.”

Currently, Twelve Bridges Library is open 23 hours a week.

The library’s approved operating budget for the current fiscal year is $408,371, according to the library director.

“My guess is next year’s budget will be very similar,” Torkelson said.

Since the Carnegie Library’s closing almost two years ago, the nonprofit Friends of the Lincoln Library has remained diligent about asking city staff to bring back the Carnegie Library.

“The Friends are interested in getting the city to reopen the Carnegie. We want the city to fund someone to be at the Carnegie,” Tahti told The News Messenger last Thursday. “We realize it won’t be open much. We have tons of volunteers ready to go to the Carnegie. But the library has to have a staff person there too.”

The Carnegie Library is missed by residents, according to Tahti.

“We have a state-of-the-art library (Twelve Bridges Library) that needs more money than they’re getting. The Carnegie and Twelve Bridges shouldn’t be in competition with each other,” Tahti said. “But the Carnegie Library is in the heart of town and kids can walk to it. It’s not easy to get to Twelve Bridges. Kids used to study at the Carnegie. This is where the town went to get books.”

Between July 2010 and June 2011, 20,000 individuals visited the Carnegie, according to longtime Friends of the Lincoln Library officer and volunteer Shirley Russell in an August 2011 News Messenger story. That was with reduced library hours totaling 12 hours two days a week.

Russell appreciates Tahti’s News Messenger guest columns.

“I love Jane’s column because the history of Lincoln is in there and how much the Carnegie means to people is in there,” Russell said three weeks ago.

Russell wants the Carnegie Library to reopen on Mondays and Fridays, which are days the Twelve Bridges branch is currently closed.

 “I would love to see the Carnegie reopen, especially for the students and people who live in the area who don’t have the means to get to the Twelve Bridges Library,” Russell said.