With the Lake Dallas City Council still a long way from a final decision on the city’s library, the once-defunct Friends of the Lake Dallas Library group has seen a resurgence of members hoping to raise awareness and funds.
what about the library
Councilor Adam Peabody’s proposal would abolish book lending and convert library services to community engagement services. But in an interview last week, Lake Dallas Mayor Andi Nolan said the city has yet to reach a consensus on the issue.
Peabody’s proposal was raised at the city’s budget workshop in May, but the 2022-23 budget will not go into effect for months. Up to that point, Nolan said, the council members “hadn’t had any real discussion about it.” She said she will demand that the library have its own agenda item when budget talks begin this month.
“As far as suggestions go, that was just one,” Nolan said. “This will be [discussed] July 14th. There will be other suggestions as well and it could be a back and forth.”
Nolan acknowledged, as did Peabody in a Facebook post, that the city faces some tough decisions due to budget constraints. She said property tax reform has hurt smaller cities, as have inflation and rising costs in several areas.
“Things are looking up,” Nolan said. “I would say we all love the library, but this year all departments are being looked at across the board.”
friends of the library
The Friends of the Lake Dallas Library appeared to have broken up just last month, with a Google search turning up just one event from 2019. In recent weeks, however, the number of members has boomed relatively.
That’s thanks in large part to Lake Dallas resident Deborah Burkhardt, one of two administrators of the organization’s Facebook group. Reaching out to the woman who previously ran the account, she has revived the organization with the goal of raising both awareness and funds.
This is reflected in the group’s online membership, which, according to Burkhardt, has grown from around 100 to over 170 in just a few weeks. While she maintains the value of the library, she acknowledged the city is puzzled over next year’s budget.
“The library used to be funded by all Lake Cities; In 2016, Corinth and Hickory Creek retired,” Burkhardt said. “Our city has funded it for the last few years. … If we’re going to keep it open, it’s going to need more support. We can’t expect the city to just keep it afloat.”
As a result, the group has expanded its presence. Members have voted on a chair, treasurer and secretary and discussed moving to a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit model. Most recently, they set up an information booth at the Fourth of July Celebration in Lake Cities.
“We gave out cold water, talked to people about getting a library card, asked for donations,” Burkhardt said. “We were able to raise $225, which doesn’t seem like much. But considering it was last minute, we were excited to get something up and running so quickly.”
There are more fundraising ideas up the pipes, and members plan to actively participate in the library discussion by attending council meetings. At the end of the day, Burkhardt said she understands the city is in a difficult position, but also said the community has a clear opinion.
“I think what Mr. Peabody said upset a lot of people, but I also understand that he’s trying to be creative with the budget,” Burkhardt said. “Many have spoken up. A large part of the community wishes for a physical library. … We as a community are ready to help if we can and to relieve the city.”
She added that the city council has been “very receptive” in discussions with the group. For her part, Nolan said the library is something that makes Lake Dallas unique.
“As an educator, literacy is obviously very important to me,” Nolan said. “I know that many people use our library for more than just borrowing books. It’s a place to meet your friends and get to know each other. A lot of cities our size don’t have libraries, so I think it’s another thing that makes us unique.”
Nolan acknowledged Friends of the Lake Dallas Library as a potential avenue for partnership. She said there were many options to consider, adding that she could not speak to the opinions of other council members on how to move forward.
“I want us to find a way to keep the library,” Nolan said. “I think it brought a lot of value to our community.”
Why Libraries Matter
The connection between public school and city libraries may be informal, but the connection is still important, said Jean Greenlaw, retired professor of education at the University of North Texas, literature specialist and book critic for the Denton Record Chronicle.
“It’s well documented that kids lose skills over the summer because any skill that isn’t practiced can be lost,” said Greenlaw, who is both a member of the Friends of the Denton Public Libraries and a member of Denton’s Library Advisory Board . “And then at the beginning of the year it’s tedious to get the kids back to where they left school and then move them on.”
Greenlaw said she regularly takes her grandchildren to the children’s program at Denton Library. She said the programs help flex the educational muscles they condition in public school — basic literacy, language skills, and learning how to independently research something of interest.
Parents might view summer library programs as affordable entertainment in a secure building, but Greenlaw said casual observations said otherwise. She recalled a library program she attended with her grandchildren about a month ago in June that highlighted a book that featured a black illustrator.
“When the group left, nobody went straight out the door,” Greenlaw said. “Everyone went to the library area and got books to borrow. They looked at the African American [book and art on a mobile display]. … We did the art project that came with the program. So there are so many activities that are possible in a public library that involve both the children and the parents. And all it can do is help children in their continued skill and learning development and the joy of reading.”
Local school districts declined to comment on the potential changes to the Lake Dallas Library, citing a lack of direct relevance to their campus. A Lake Dallas ISD spokesman said in an automated email that the district was closed for the week. The email also said he would respond to emails on Thursday, but no response had come as of Friday afternoon.
Greenlaw said the relationship between schools and city libraries is more direct.
“Another example of the library working with the school district: North Branch is adjacent to Strickland Middle School. After school, many, many, many kids come by,” Greenlaw said.
It’s a “very, very active program” and a place where youth can feel safe, she said. “There’s a librarian who focuses right on them, who finds the right book for them, or the right game, or whatever.”
In 2020, local governments across Texas furloughed library staff after COVID-19 forced temporary library closures. Budget deficits are particularly threatening smaller community libraries like the Lake Dallas Library as community budgets have felt the pinch of the pandemic’s economic downturn.
The Texas Library Association reported that Texas will receive nearly $12 million in funding from the Library Services and Technology Act, but that the agency is asking for $50 million in federal funding at this year’s federal appropriations session. The association would like to use the funds, if they are received, for Innovative Approaches to Literacy Grants. The state association said it is following the Build America’s Libraries Act, which was introduced in Congress in January. If passed, the law would provide $5 billion to modernize the country’s libraries to deal with natural disasters, COVID-19, broadband capacity, environmental hazards and barriers to access. With such funding, Texas would receive $373 million for its libraries.
Greenlaw says residents can support their libraries through groups like Friends of the Lake Dallas Library. Groups of friends raise money for outreach programs like Denton’s Summer Reading Challenge.
“For me, there’s no better use of my tax dollars than in the public libraries,” Greenlaw said. “A library serves everyone. From the youngest child to the oldest person, it serves everyone. Whether you are rich or destitute, it serves everyone.”
The agenda for the July 14 Lake Dallas City Council meeting had not been released as of Friday afternoon.
JUSTIN GRASS can be reached at 940-566-6884 and on Twitter at @JustinGrass10.
LUCINDA BREEDING-GONZALES can be reached at 940-566-6877 and on Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.