News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett B-Sides

January 13, 2010

Mark Bennett: A year after budget cuts and closings, business is booming at the Vigo County Public Library’s main branch

With sleeves rolled up, the Vigo County Public Library swallowed hard, resisted complaining, and did what it had to …

More with less.

At a public hearing a year ago this month, Nancy Dowell — the VCPL executive director — explained to folks who count on the library’s smorgasbord of services that cutbacks were coming. Big cutbacks. Property tax caps, imposed by Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Indiana Legislature, would shave nearly a half-million dollars a year from the library’s budget.

So, with no good options, three of Vigo County’s four branch locations — each in place for decades — closed. Seventeen staffers got laid off. Health insurance benefits for the remaining employees were drastically reduced, Dowell said. The lone surviving satellite branch in West Terre Haute eliminated evening and weekend hours.

No big deal, right? After all, if the state was forcing such heavy cuts, the library must not be that popular or necessary, right?

Well, not exactly. Actually, one year after Dowell delivered that somber news at that hearing, the library’s main branch at Seventh and Poplar streets is busier than ever. In 2008, a total of 449,880 visitors entered the main branch.

Last year, that figure jumped by 20.3 percent to 541,319. The number of transactions rose nearly 31 percent to 767,341 in 2009 from 586,111 in 2008. The two computer labs bustle with jobseekers honing resumes, jobless people filing online for government services, and businessmen and businesswomen accessing the library’s free wi-fi with their laptops.

The parking lot had to be expanded to handle the increased crowds.

Many people who frequently visited the lost branches at Southland, The Meadows and Plaza North found ways to get to the downtown location. Some have not. With five branches operating in 2008, the Vigo County system handled 970,370 transactions.

The losses, clearly, were felt.

“Looking back, I think closing the branches was traumatic,” Dowell said, “both for our patrons and our staff.”

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    March 12, 2010