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Detroit Public Library seeks to preserve its most essential services

The Detroit Public Library is forming a task force to figure out how to continue to provide its most essential services to residents.

The library laid off 79 staff this spring due to revenue shortfalls. 

Now, six of its branches may close because of the staffing cuts.

Executive Director Jo Anne Mundowney says revenues will likely continue to fall.  Ninety percent of the library's revenue comes from property taxes, which are declining.

Mundowney wants to protect what she calls “9-1-1” services:  Internet access, adult literacy and kids' summer reading programs, and requesting printed materials.

"Maybe not there as huge collections," says Mundowney, "but to be able to go into or remotely access the library’s Web site and say, can this material be sent to this place or may I come and pick it up."

Mundowney says Detroit may decide to follow the example of New Orleans after the Katrina disaster.

"Everything was wiped out and they were re-inventing services, and so public libraries are really taking their cue from that model and it seems to be working."

Mundowney says the Gates Foundation helped New Orleans set up mobile branches.

She says many libraries across the country are facing the same problems as Detroit.


Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.