Jeanne Goodrich walks past aisle after aisle of shelves lined with books, 130,000 in all and most of them brand new. Each passing aisle emits a whiff of crisp, never-before-read pages, a distinct smell like that of a new car or an approaching storm.
The books aren’t the only new things here. The concrete-and-glass Windmill Library housing the collection will open its doors for the first time at 10 a.m. today . The grand opening comes amid a recession and an “unprecedented decline” in the library’s main source of revenue: property taxes, said Goodrich, executive director of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District.
Because of property tax declines, the district cut 96 positions, reduced library hours and spent $4.21 million less on books last fiscal year, a 35 percent cut. The district is bracing for $7.96 million less in property taxes for the fiscal year ending June 30, a 14 percent decline from the $54.4 million of last year.
“We’re just pulling the belt all the way around,” Goodrich said after reaching the middle of the library, standing beneath a 50-foot-high skylighted atrium and surrounded by walls of windows. The district serves 1.5 million people at 25 libraries. “We’re funded by property taxes, and we all know what happened here with that.”
That naturally prompts concern over opening a new library costing $49 million to build and stock.
“People can ask why we’re opening this library,” said Goodrich, adding that it’s a question she has answered many times about the library, at Windmill Lane and Rainbow Boulevard.
Windmill is the last new library in the system’s pipeline, planned in the middle of the past decade when the economy was booming. The district was contractually committed to finishing the building because of the medium-term bonds issued in March 2009 to finance the construction. About three months after the bonds’ issuance, the district broke ground on the 15-acre project.
This week, workers are putting the finishing touches on the 29,000-square-foot library and the attached service center, an 88,000-square-foot facility where books, movies and music are shuffled among the 25 libraries.
New libraries aren’t an anomaly despite dwindling budgets across the country, said Audra Caplan, president of the Public Library Association within the American Library Association.
More than half the states have reported a decrease in library funding over the past four years, with cuts averaging 10 percent, according to the association’s 2011 State of America’s Libraries Report.
Public libraries are still being built although at a slower rate, Caplan said. About $1.1 billion was spent in 2010 to build or renovate 125 libraries. The number built in 2009 was 170, with the building rate peaking in 2008 at 183.
Caplan said those new libraries aren’t attributable to districts being flush with cash but — same as Las Vegas — being already committed because bonds were issued before the recession.
Herein lies a potential problem.
“These libraries are built using one-time money,” Caplan said. “The challenge is finding the money to run them year in and year out. Where do we get that money?”
She said several libraries across the country have been built but sit empty or are only partly used because of budget constraints.
Goodrich said district officials — anticipating that hurdle — feel confident they can cover the cost of running a 25th library, estimated to cost $1.8 million per year.
The library will need 35 staff members, 12 of whom will be full-time. She said those people were hired last year to prevent a sudden influx of salary costs. Those workers have been at other libraries, but they will be culled for the Windmill Library.
Solar panels have been installed to save the library an estimated $21,000 a year in energy costs. For taking that initiative, NV Energy will present the district with a $452,500 rebate check at today’s grand opening.
The library is taking advantage of natural light, relying on little to no indoor lights throughout most of the day, and the facility has long roof overhangs to prevent the afternoon sun from heating the interior. The library relies almost entirely on self-checkout.
“In this new environment, libraries are rethinking what they can do, but we’re very busy,” Goodrich said. “When the economy is down, library business booms.”
She said that at a time when people are strapped for cash, libraries are a cheap form of entertainment. The district reported a 3 percent increase in checkouts last year and sold $250,000 in used books.
“People are doubling and tripling up in apartments,” Goodrich said. “A lot of people come to just get away and find a quiet place to be in.”
Caplan is seeing such a change throughout the country.
“We’re cognizant of the fact that we’re becoming centers of communities,” she said, adding that it’s a free place for the unemployed to search for jobs online, which has become a common demand for libraries.
She said many larger libraries have started resume-writing and job-search classes.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘Are libraries going to survive the economic downturn?’ ” Caplan said. “People are flocking to us.”
Contact Trevon Milliard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.quick facts
• 29,000-square-foot library; 7,400-square-foot wing for future expansion; 88,000-square-foot service center
• 300-seat auditorium
• Four study rooms
• Children’s story room
• 1,500-square-foot meeting room
• Art gallery
• Used bookstore
• Laptops to borrow
• 22-seat adult computer lab
• 24-seat children’s computer lab
• Wireless Internet
Las Vegas Review-Journal