Three years ago, the Providence Public Library’s threat to close its neighborhood branches resulted in a bitter public debate over who should manage the system.
About six months ago, Providence paid $5 million to PPL for seven of those branches, saving them from closure. Then, not quite two months ago, the city cut fiscal 2013 funding to Providence Community Library, the nonprofit formed to manage the branches, by 6 percent, forcing PCL to cut staff benefits and, on a small scale, patron services.
So, is splitting library management and funding still the best solution for Providence?
“Honestly, yes,” said Tonia Mason, marketing and communications director at PPL. “We’re in a difficult economy. I think it’s going to be difficult still to support that many branches, but it’s something the city has to decide how they want to go forward [with]. It’s just going to have to work itself out. We’re moving ahead in another direction.”
The PCL will close its branches from Monday, Sept. 10 through Saturday, Sept. 15, in order to help compensate for a $250,000 funding cut.
Employees agreed to forego 401(k) contributions and matches for one year to make up the funding difference.
The city originally proposed cutting 10 percent of its $3 million contribution to the system’s $4.8 million operating budget.
“They were generous in restoring a portion of the cut. They’ve really done what they could to help us,” said Laura Marlane, PCL executive director. “We recognize the city is in a very [bad] financial situation.”
The Providence mayor’s office did not respond to several requests for comment last week.
The city has, over the last three years, contributed about 73 percent of PCL’s budget, which Marlane described as “bare bones.”
The state has contributed about 6 percent and the rest has come from donations.
As a relatively new organization, PCL has no substantial savings or endowment, putting it in stark contrast to PPL, which relies on those sources, as well as donations, for most of its funding.
PCL was formed in 2009 to manage nine community branches, five of which PPL planned to close in the wake of its own funding difficulties. City library funding that had gone to PPL instead went to PCL.