Louisville’s free public library system is ignoring East End residents and facilities according to one Metro Council member.
Statistics show libraries in neighborhoods such as St. Matthews, Middletown and Jeffersontown have some of the highest visitor and book checkout rates.
For instance, the St. Matthews location has approximately 435,000 checkouts per year behind only the main branch in downtown. But suburban patrons have complained they’re being underserved, and lawmakers representing the areas are raising their voices, saying the structures are too small and in need of major renovations.
“If you factor in the facilities or if you factor in square footage, practically anyway you look at it we get one half the service, the library space and one half the access. The people east of (Browns Lane) line, that is where the growth has been. In the census, some districts grew 30 percent,” says Councilman Jerry Miller, R-19.
The Middletown location is the third busiest in the city in terms of checkouts at 405,000 and has the highest rate per visitor. It is the only full-service branch in the East End, but it is the third-smallest facility in the system in terms of square footage.
Other branches such as the Westport location are housed in a middle school, and have limited hours.
“We think we can do better and need to do better all over town,” says library director Craig Buthod, who admits the East End is underserved. “The master plan has projects all over the county, mostly in the suburban areas because we have a stronger library base in the old city of Louisville. In the suburban areas we need more libraries, we need more library space, books and convenience for out patrons. We’re painfully aware of that.”
The city has built two new branches and renovated three others in the urban core since 2009, in addition to beginning construction on a $13 million regional library in southwest Louisville.
Census trends show population growth is in east Louisville, however. And no new branches or renovations are planned in the suburbs for the immediate future.
Buthod says the library’s master plan has a “great deal” of investment slated for those east Louisville locations. The plan calls for a new northeast regional library in the Lyndon neighborhood and other East End locations are set for renovations and expansions, but funding issues have delayed those projects.
The Fairdale location in south Louisville was last on the master plan schedule, but was bumped ahead for major renovations that were completed last year.
“The sequence of the projects is largely driven by the Metro Council,” says Buthod. “The Fairdale project came forward because (former) Mayor Jerry Abramson proposed that and the council wanted to do it.”
Current Mayor Greg Fischer told The Courier-Journal in March that it would be at least three years before any new money would be put in for library construction or improvements. And since 2010, the library system has seen its budget slashed by 9.8 percent.
Library supporters have pointed out for years that because voters rejected a tax referendum to fund a $200 million plan for the libraries, the city system is woefully behind competitors in the region and in the state.
“When we proposed in 2007 that we build all those libraries in one swoop I was all for that of course, and we would be finished by now. We would have all of those libraries built. If we had the funds to build more we would build more,” says Buthod.
The library tax was something many Middletown residents and leaders opposed publicly, including Miller’s predecessor former mayoral candidate and Councilman Hal Heiner.
“Frankly, I think there’s a little leftover hostility over the failure of the library tax,” says Miller. “I will add that the southwest part of the county went against the tax just as heavily as the east, yet they’re getting Fairdale and Southwest Regional. The Scriptures say that where your money is, is where your heart is. Well, it is very clear that Craig Buthod’s heart is west and not east.”
You can listen to Miller and Buthod’s discussion on library funding and East End services at this year’s budget hearings below.