The Tuscaloosa Public Library will reverse course and continue to offer access to a popular e-book database that had been on the chopping block as part of budget cuts announced in October.

As the Thread previously reported, the Library faces an ongoing funding crisis. They rely primarily on three local governments - the Tuscaloosa City Council, the Northport City Council and the Tuscaloosa County Commission - for the money required to operate three branches, offer services, employ staff and carry out programming.

Those funding partners are friends of the library - just this year, the three governments all voted to contribute hefty sums to replace the room at TPL's main branch on Jack Warner Parkway. But Jeff Hinton, the chair of the library's board of directors, while the organization deeply appreciates their assistance on that urgent need, conversations still need to be had about the library's long-term funding model.

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By October, all three governments had adopted their yearly budgets and spelled out how much they would provide to TPL. With those numbers in hand, the board voted on a series of cost cuts including the permanent closure of the Brown Branch and the elimination of the library's Overdrive/Libby electronic database, which would have cut access to more than 40,000 e-books and other offerings.

Community backlash was immediate, directed not just at the three government agencies who fund TPL but at the board themselves over the decision to cut Libby.

Board chair Jeff Hinton told the Thread Wednesday evening that the board heard that feedback loud and clear and, earlier this month, they met and unanimously voted to continue offering access to the e-books.

"We've listened to a lot of people in the community," Hinton said. "When we made the decision to cut back, we got a little backlash - and rightfully so - because this is a service a lot of people utilize."

Hinton said that financially, some things "worked themselves out" as one longtime Library employee retired and a part-time staffer also stepped away, freeing up some funds to help make it make sense to keeping Libby make sense.

The board vote to keep offering access was unanimous, Hinton said.

"We decided to put a plan in place to keep Libby and OverDrive on for the patrons and there was no loss of service," Hinton said. "We'll also be adding 13 new titles per month."

Hinton said members of the Library's executive committee recently had a productive meeting with elected officials to discuss the future and he is optimistic there is a path forward to keep open and operable.

"We want to tell all our patrons thank you for being patient while we worked this out, and thank you to our funding partners," Hinton said. "I think we all got a great taste of how much the Public Library still means to people. Thank you for coming to the table to talk about the future of the library and how to fund it, thank you, thank you, thank you.

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Gallery Credit: (Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)

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