The residents of St. Paul's Hamline Midway neighborhood are not letting their library close without putting up a fight.
More than 100 grownups and children squeezed into the library's basement Tuesday night to listen to Mayor Chris Coleman and library director Melanie Huggins talk about the city's budget struggles and reasoning for the proposed closing of the building. Residents also voiced their frustrations, concerns and ideas for holding on to a vital part of the neighborhood.
The city officials said they didn't want to close the library but that trimming $2.1 million from the library system's budget requires tough decisions. They suggested, however, that it could be possible to keep the building open for the rest of the year, with the goal of getting a community process going that would result in finding partners to enhance services at the building.
St. Paul has a projected $44 million budget gap from 2008 to 2010, and Coleman asked all of his department directors to cut their 2009 budgets by 14 percent. Of the 13 libraries in the city, Hamline Midway is the only one proposed to be closed. Aside from closing Hamline Midway, other budget-trimming proposals include eliminating 29 positions, reducing the number of open hours and cutting the books and materials budget.
Huggins said she had received 70 letters, phone calls and e-mails from folks who want to keep the library open.
Opponents of the plan have been vocal and organized, from showing up in force at public meetings to creating a Facebook page, "Save the Hamline Midway Library."
They have suggested ways to raise revenue, such as charging late fines on children's books and providing voluntary donation bins, similar to those at Como Park Zoo. Among the smallest of the system's branches, Hamline Midway was built in 1930. People visited the branch about 120,000 times in 2007.
"It's a cultural oasis for this neighborhood," said Mike Sigrin, who has lived nearby since 1987.
Carrie Pomeroy, who often walks to the library with her two children, said the situation is broader than just her neighborhood. "With the budget continuing to look gloomy, closings will continue to come up," she said. Finding an alternative to closing the building could serve as a model for other neighborhoods, she said.
Coleman and Huggins support alternatives but said they wouldn't result in a library exactly like the one there today. They talked about finding out the community's needs and trying to find partners that could work with the city to provide different services. When pressed by residents, they gave an example of joining with a nonprofit literary organization or museum that would use part of the space for its programs while also allowing for use of the library.
Coleman said it's important for the library as a system to "move forward," find partners and invest in new facilities.
Not all were convinced.
"I appreciate the need to keep our programs and facilities current. However, I am worried that Mayor Coleman and Ms. Huggins are proposing ideas -- for a 'better, community-type facility' -- that are predicated on hypothetical funding at best," said Karen Shapiro, a teacher, neighbor and library user. "Where will the money come from?"
Coleman hasn't yet presented his revised budget to the City Council.
Chris Havens • 612-673-4148