Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Joe Hayse Story: How Lexington Got Its Library Back

Joe deserves his own wing in the Library Advocacy Hall of Fame.

Link to Tom Eblen's column in the January 24 Lexington Herald-Leader, "Library lovers forced city to go by the book". (via Twitter)

Excerpt: After moving here from Louisville in 1971, Hayse became a frequent patron of the old main library at Gratz Park and its Southland branch, which was then housed in a cramped building that later became a bicycle shop.

The main library — now the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning — had a leaky roof, outdated wiring, crumbling plaster and peeling paint. A wet basement threatened irreplaceable records of Lexington’s early history. Art treasures that had been donated to the library were being sold off to meet operating expenses. Building inspectors finally closed the second floor because they were afraid it might collapse.

Hayse said he became so frustrated that one day he left the library and walked to the office of his high school classmate, lawyer William Jacobs.

“Lexington is a rich city, but we have a library you can’t even use,” Hayse recalled telling Jacobs. “Surely this city can afford to do better than this.”

Lexington could afford to do better — and was required to by state law. City officials were simply ignoring the law, as they had for years, because they didn’t want to raise taxes.

Library board members, who were appointed by the mayor, had agreed to accept only about half the funding they were entitled to receive. Hayse and Jacobs thought the law was clear, and when the library board refused to demand the law be enforced, they filed suit in 1979.

The city fought the lawsuit for nearly five years, but the courts sided with Hayse and Jacobs. Finally, Lexington was required to properly fund the library — plus make back payments owed since the lawsuit was filed. That paved the way for construction of the Central Library on Main Street.

Since then, the Lexington Public Library system has become a model instead of an embarrassment. Its modern buildings, resources and services have made Lexington a more literate community whose citizens are better able to compete in a knowledge economy.

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