It will be a few months still before library Director Rodger Brayden sees his operating budget bolstered by a property tax increase approved in November, but patrons are already seeing tangible differences at the Forest Park Public Library.
Six computers used for public Internet access have been replaced, videos can now be checked out for free and the building opens an hour earlier at 9 a.m. Monday through Saturday.
“We’re a little more free to spend money,” Brayden said.
Almost six months ago voters agreed to an increase to the limiting rate of the village’s property taxes. For Brayden and his staff, the change is expected to bring an additional $500,000 annually for the next four years into the library. This amount nearly doubles the current budget of approximately $700,000.
Roughly 2.5 percent of a property owner’s tax bill goes to fund the library.
As promised, Brayden also handed out raises to his staff and hired additional personnel, including a security detail to monitor unruly behavior.
Prior to the Nov. 7, 2006, vote, Lindsey Kraft was working part-time in the children’s services department in the library’s basement. She is one of two employees who were offered a full-time position since the referendum was approved.
Kraft has been a boon to the department for her ideas on expanding the programs available to children and teens, according to library staff. Though the programming she’s helping to create isn’t directly linked to the referendum, Brayden said Kraft now has more time to devote to such efforts.
A month ago Kraft paired young actors from a local theater company with a popular children’s book, and now she is working with a dance company. In the future, Kraft said she hopes to use video games as a way to encourage reading and would like kids to learn about Internet blogs and pod casts at the library.
“I kind of feel that a library isn’t just a place for books, but a place to explore different interests,” Kraft said. “I’m hoping that if kids are exposed to these things they’ll just take off with it.”
Joanne Mannhaupt owns the Flex & Pointe dance studio on Madison Street and is working with Kraft on the monthly dance classes. Mannhaupt agreed that a library may seem like an unusual place for dancing, but said the kids love it.
“There’s usually a big crowd watching,” Mannhaupt said.
Andrea Blaylock, president of the library’s board of directors and columnist for the Review, said the spending thus far has followed a list of priorities established by the board and the staff. Offering free video rentals, for example, was agreed upon as a way to thank community members for approving the measure. Installing surveillance cameras and hiring security personnel will hopefully weed out rude and disruptive behavior that, according to Blaylock, comes largely from younger patrons.