News feature Long overdue 

After two years, SA hires a library director

Dallas City Hall beckoned Ramiro Salazar with an opportunity, but he chose a career path in public administration.

The former director of the Dallas Public Library system for 11 years, Salazar was introduced two weeks ago at City Council Chambers as San Antonio's new library director, a position that had been vacant since 2003. Although Salazar had worked for the past 10 months as Dallas' Interim Assistant City Manager he says that "six months into the job I realized my passions were in libraries."

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Library Director Ramiro Salazar (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

This is a tenuous time for public libraries, as funding shortages have prompted city officials in John Steinbeck's hometown of Salinas, California to threaten to close the local library. Citizens raised $500,000 to keep the three branches open one day a week. And officials in Bedford, Texas, a town of 26,000 in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, shuttered its library because of lack of funding.

San Antonio's City budget for the library includes $20.8 million from the general fund and another $2.1 million in grants. The Library Foundation also helps raise money, about $1 million. Yet, the library is chronically underfunded, and City officials have proposed a special library district that would increase sales taxes to add to the coffers.(see story, page 7). According to the American Library Association, the taxing district could raise the $12 million needed for San Antonio's libraries to equal the average budgets in nine comparably sized cities. That money could be used to buy more books and media. Although the library has about 1.8 million items, including books, magazines, and DVDs, the ALA reported in March 2004 that number is about 1.7 million short of what a library system in a city of 1.2 million should have.

"I really took a hard look at San Antonio to see what they are doing," Salazar said. "The proposed legislation to find sustainable funding for the library intrigued me."

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Salazar, who served as San Antonio's library services administrator from 1984 to 1988, will also need money to hire employees. He is charged with filling the more than 80 vacant positions in the Central Library and its 21 branch libraries.

There are two reasons 15 percent of the library's 500 positions are open. One is that library employees get promoted, and they move out of the City and take other jobs, often because they graduate college and enter new careers. Another, seemingly larger problem, is the graying of the nation's librarians. "Within five to seven years, we'll see a significant number of seasoned librarians retiring," says Salazar. "Within seven years we'll be feeling the impact ... the profession as a whole will need to give this predicament greater attention."

Salazar says he has helped to address this potential librarian shortage crisis through his involvement with the advisory board of the University of North Texas School of Library and Information Sciences, which could funnel job candidates to San Antonio.

Within the library community, "there's a sense of urgency about how we will manage the fact that we have a large number of librarians that will be retiring soon, and we will be losing a lot of experience."

Salazar counts capital projects, including construction and renovation of numerous branch libraries as a sign that the City's library system is progressing. He also cites programs such as Born to Read as essential ways to engage new mothers in their children's reading. Teen and elderly outreach are equally as important in the various programs and activities that are available.

The director also credits his staff for making the best of an underfunded library system. "I will do everything to put together the resources they need ... to empower them to do great things for the city. I sense some real positive energy here. We have challenges, but I don't know any major library system that does not."

By Michael Cary


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