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Board Member Robert Judge speaks during the Lafayette Public Library Board of Control meeting Monday, February 22, 2021, in Lafayette, La.

The newest member of the Lafayette Parish Library Board of Control wants to narrow the services of the library system by removing "recreation and cultural enrichment" from its mission statement.

Robert Judge, appointed to the library board in February and a vocal opponent of the library before getting appointed, said Monday removing from the services of the library system would free staff and money to focus on the true purpose of libraries and to expand those services.

The current mission of the library system "is to enhance the quality of life of our community by providing free and equal access to high-quality, cost-effective library services that meet the needs and expectations of our diverse community for information, life-long learning, recreation and cultural enrichment."

It is a misuse of taxes, a duplication of services and fiscally irresponsible for the library system to offer recreation and cultural enrichment services, Judge said, because Lafayette Consolidated Government's parks and recreation and community development departments already provide those services. He specifically cited the Lafayette Science Museum, Heymann Performing Arts Center and Acadiana Nature Station and Park.

Judge said the library system needs to rebuild the public's trust by eliminating services the public does not support, including an electric vehicle charging station at one of the libraries and loaning out musical instruments and fishing poles, which he called "completely unnecessary."

The library's role is to loan informational and instructional books and videos, for instance, on how to fish, but not fishing poles or guitars or sewing machines, he said.

"It’s a distinction between the activity itself and knowing how to do the activity," Judge said. "If you read a book on gardening, you're not actually gardening. We have to be able to make those distinctions."

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Several board members suggested waiting to revise the mission statement until a new library director is hired. The board is advertising the position now. Others suggested involving staff in the revision process.

Judge was appointed to the volunteer position in February by the Parish Council from among seven applicants. His appointment created a stir among library supporters in part because Judge was a vocal opponent in 2018 of the Drag Queen Story Time event. 

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Stephanie Armbruster who was appointed to the board in August after picketing the library in 2018 over Drag Queen Story Time.

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Mayor-President Josh Guillory cut funding to all of those programs in 2020 and shut down four recreation centers and activity centers in north Lafayette, as well as three senior centers. The Science Museum recently reopened with reduced hours. Most charge a fee to attend whereas library programs are free.

A 1.84-mill parish wide property tax that generates about $4 million a year to fund libraries expires in 2023 and is expected to be placed on an Oct. 9 ballot for renewal. The tax approved by voters was 2 mills, but the Parish Council did not roll the millage forward and did not consult the library staff or board before setting the renewal amount at 1.84 mills, Interim Library Director Danny Gillane said.

That will permanently reduce the amount of taxes collected for the library, which already is suffering financially. The parish's public library fund, which three years ago had $26 million in savings, has $7 million today.

In 2018, voters failed to renew one of three property taxes that funded the library system, costing it $3.5 million a year. Another $8 million in library savings was spent on drainage in 2018 and the council not rolling millages forward cost about another $1 million. 

The board has put several capital projects, including planned library expansions, on hold due to concerns that the 1.84-mill renewal is rejected by voters. Even library board members who opposed the previous millage renewal before they were appointed to the board acknowledge the 1.84-mill renewal is vital to maintain the library system at its current level.

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Email Claire Taylor at ctaylor@theadvocate.com.