Stothert Addresses Public Concerns About Omaha Public Library

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert takes questions during a news conference on Thursday, Oct. 7, at the Omaha-Douglas Civic Center. (Derek Noehren/Daily Record)
Derek Noehren
The Daily Record

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said she has no plans to privatize the Omaha Public Libray system as a whole nor the W. Dale Clark Library downtown in particular.

Stothert’s comments came unprompted toward the end of an introductory press conference naming Matt Kuhse Omaha’s new city attorney last week.

“There is a rumor out there that we have a plan to privatize the Omaha Public Library system, and that is not true. That’s completely false,” Sothert said. “We do not have a plan. There is no intent whatsoever to privatize the Omaha Public Library system.”

Stothert addressed the future of the downtown library, which was built in 1977. The mayor cited a 2017 facilities study of the space conducted by library consultants.

“Also, there are rumors about the downtown library, and that is not a rumor. We have been talking about building a new downtown library for several years now,” Stothert said. “In fact, in 2017 they did a facility study for the library and described the W. Dale Clark Library as dated, inefficient and underutilized. Because of that, I put it in the Capital Improvement Plan in 2018 … to build a new downtown library.”

The downtown library, which is the main branch of the system, has changing demographics, such as a lower concentration of children compared to other areas of the city, Stothert said.

“As downtown grows, there’s more residential downtown. The downtown library has to fit what its customers are downtown,” Stothert said. “We will be working very closely with the board of trustees and the library director on what we need for a good downtown library.”

The new downtown library likely will be in a different spot and a smaller branch that is “much more efficient than what we have now,” Stothert said.

Another consideration for the property is the potential of the coveted lot at 215 S. 15th St.

“To add on top of that, where the Dale Clark Library is now is prime real estate property, and as the Gene Leahy Mall opens — and it should open Memorial Day of next year — there are numerous developers already interested in that spot right at the end of the new development. We would like to develop that area also, so there are several reasons why it’s a good idea to move forward and continue evaluating what we need for a downtown library,” Stothert said.

The plans downtown have nothing to do with “anything that our philanthropic community is considering doing,” Stothert said, referring to the prospect of partnering with a private entity.

“This has been in our plan for quite a while now,” Stothert said. “The library director and I have talked many times. The building is outdated and inefficient and that’s something the city wants to do in cooperation with our board of trustees. But as far as privatizing, there are no plans.”

Despite the proposed changes, Stothert wanted to assure people that an Omaha downtown library is not going away, just likely moving and changing.

“The current Dale Clark Library is city owned. We own the land, we own the building, we own the property,” Stothert said. “But we will be very careful to make sure we still have a downtown library and it will suit our growing customers.”

The Omaha Public Library held public forms about its strategic plan Thursday and Friday at the Millard and South Omaha branches respectively. Forums are set from 6:30 to 8 p.m. for today at the Milton R. Abrahams Branch, 5111 N. 90th St., and Tuesday at Charles B. Washington Branch, 2868 Ames Ave.


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