Minneapolis, MN – On September 20, Hennepin County library workers rallied at the East Lake Street Library, located in the heart of last year’s George Floyd rebellion, to call on county commissioners to fully fund and staff public libraries. At the rally, frontline support staff and library workers spoke out against cutting staff during a pandemic, saying that people need the library services more than ever.
The workers held signs along the side of Lake Street as people passing by held out their fists and honked in solidarity. The library users appeared to be supportive, and when they learned that Hennepin County was cutting more positions, many called the county commissioner or asked how they could help.
Sonia Meade, a resident of the area and regular East Lake Library patron came to the rally after hearing about it on the morning news. “I want more money for libraries not less,” Meade observed. “I want more library staff not less. I’m very concerned by what I’m hearing.”
David Wang, a new Minneapolis resident came after seeing a post about it on Twitter. “It’s so important to support our libraries and their workers. Libraries have been so important during this pandemic. That’s why I came here today, to support library workers.”
In the summer of 2020 the Hennepin County board cut 66 full-time library positions, despite strong financial reserves. Later that year they attempted to cut an additional 35 positions but eventually decided not to after library workers and the community fought back against the move.
The union members say that the county is looking at more cuts and a potential 14% reduction in total staff compared to pre-COVID levels. Despite widespread reports of staffing issues, the library is increasing hours by 376 hours in October. Library workers and their union support more hours but say that with current staffing levels it is not safe nor is it feasible and that, without increasing staff, library users will have to wait longer for books and movies, receive less support for job searches, computer questions and tech support; and overall will find diminished services.
In addition to cutting staff, Hennepin County Library has also been cutting services, recently shutting down the Franklin Learning Center, which offered educational opportunities to new immigrants; cutting the collection budget and removing staff and public computers.
After the rally, union leaders from AFSCME Local 2822 and AFSCME Local 2864 sent a joint letter to county commissioners calling for a return of the 66 positions cut last year and to retain all existing vacancies; and return plexiglass shields that were removed from public desks earlier this summer.