St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter sees the city's libraries as the hub of community life, places where people write resumes, get homework help and connect with services.

"Our libraries are not just a warehouse for books," Carter said Tuesday, standing in bright sunshine in front of the Riverview Public Library on the city's West Side. "Our libraries are meeting places. Our libraries are community gathering spaces."

And his proposed 2023 library budget of $21 million — $2.2 million and 12% more than 2022 — reflects that, he said.

Carter praised library staff for their work during the past two years — especially during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and the violence that has hit communities in its wake — saying they are at the forefront of a library system that is reinventing itself to meet evolving community needs.

"Our libraries have been on the front line," Carter said. "Our library staff has been on the front line."

Last year, Carter tapped federal American Rescue Plan funds to restore cuts to library staffing from the previous year. In 2023, he said he is recommending putting those positions back in the library's general fund.

Instead of using federal money to pay for frontline library staff, Carter is proposing using $1.5 million next year to assess how to improve safety and security throughout the library system. Included in that analysis could be everything from library building design changes to hiring a director of security, he said.

As an example of how he wants the city to use creative and cost-effective approaches to improving library safety, Carter pointed to a recent shift of "light duty" firefighters into the city's Central Library downtown. At the suggestion of the fire chief, Carter said, firefighters who have been assigned to light duty because of injury or other reasons are now monitoring the goings-on inside the library and are able to provide help — such as first aid — when needed.

That frees library staff to focus on their primary jobs, Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher said.

The 2023 proposed budget for the Library General Fund also includes the addition of two Cultural Liaisons to expand Community Services programming focused on Karen, Latino and Somali communities. Carter's proposed budget adds $100,000 in collections funding.

The mayor's proposal also shifts the funding for workers who help unemployed residents find work back into the city's General Fund. In 2022, St. Paul used federal Community Development Block Grant Cares Act funds for that purpose.