Mayor Restores Funding For Houston Libraries

Houston Public Library Central Branch [flickr/Fatty Tuna]
Houston Public Library hours are being restored as a result of what city officials call a sign of improving economic times. The city will hire 109 full and part time positions to restore library services.

Three years ago, city leaders had to make challenging decisions to balance the budget during the recession.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker says it was difficult when they had to lay off hundreds of employees and institutute mandatory furlough days.  

They also had to cut city services in three major areas.

"We closed swimming pools; we cut back on the hours that 3-1-1 was answered; we closed libraries on weekends and in the evenings."

That first year, private donations enabled the city to keep the swimming pools open. The 3-1-1 service has also been restored to a 24/7 operation. Parker says a couple months ago she was visiting with a group of boy scouts and asked them a simple question.

"If you could do anything in the city, what would you like to have? And the kids were saying things like, well I'd love to have a swimming pool full of Skittles and chocolate fountains in every school. And one boy scout raised his hand and he looked at me and he said, 'I want to be able to go to the library again.' And I almost burst into tears."

Parker says they've been working to restore library hours, but had to be sure city revenues could sustain the service. She's allocating $3.1 million to hire 109 positions in the library system.

"One of the challenges for our budget is that we have to make sure that recurring revenues meet recurring expenses. And part of the way we have navigated through this very difficult economy, even with all the cuts we had to make, is that we have used one-time sources of funds. And so we had to get to the point where we were comfortable that the recurring revenue could handle these additional staff hours."

Fourteen libraries will add Saturdays to their schedule, bringing the number of libraries open on Saturdays up to 41. The Central Library will again be open seven days a week.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...