RELEASE DATE: August 26, 2009
Contact: Pamela Kiesner
Bellingham Public Library
LIBRARY BOARD ANNOUNCES HOURS, SERVICE REDUCTIONS
The Bellingham Public Library Board of Trustees met Tuesday, August 18 to review the status of the library’s 2009 and 2010 budgets in light of a citywide budget shortfall. The library has made two cuts to date in 2009; the first in late February slashed the library’s materials budget by 20%; the second reduced the personnel budget by $350,000.
Now that layoff notices have been accepted, Library Director Pamela Kiesner regretfully confirmed that eight staff positions have been eliminated, effective October 1. Two of the positions were vacancies and five resulted in layoffs. In addition, one position’s hours were reduced and another bumped into a lower classification.
“This has been an extremely difficult time for library staff,” Kiesner said, “We are losing some excellent staff members at a time when library usage is increasing in the double-digits over last year.”
Kiesner told the Library Board that the library’s management team had scoured the 2009 budget for possible areas for further reduction, but only netted $13,500 that was not committed for existing projects and infrastructure. After cuts to the materials budget, the only place left was personnel.
“With fewer staff to handle increasing business, we have no option but to reduce open hours,” concluded Kiesner. “We simply don’t have enough people to keep the doors open the same hours we have in the past.”
After discussion, the Library Board voted unanimously to adopt a new schedule. Sunday hours at the Central Library, on hiatus during the summer, will not be reinstated in September. Additionally, the Central Library will be closing at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday evenings instead of at 8:00 p.m. The Fairhaven Branch, closed temporarily for repairs, will be open from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday when it re-opens sometime in November. Hours at the Barkley Branch, already the most limited at 20 hours per week, will not be affected in order to fulfill contract obligations with the Barkley Company, which is currently providing the space rent-free.
“Many factors were considered during the decision-making process. In previous tough times, Sunday hours and evening hours were reduced, so there is a precedent,” said Kiesner. Library staff looked at library usage statistics hour by hour each day to determine that Wednesday and Thursday nights were among the least busy. They also reviewed the results of a Library User Survey conducted last February, which indicated that 52% of the 2,900 respondents would be willing to forego Sunday hours. They also considered that 75% of those surveyed said they used the Central Library the most often, while 84% said they use the Central Library in addition to one of the library branches.
“We tried to maintain some morning, evening and Saturday hours,” said Kiesner, “while establishing an easy-to-remember schedule.”
Library staff are still working out ways to adjust to the loss of several key staff members and are reviewing all services. The public can expect longer wait times for staff assistance and longer queues for requested items. Certain programs and library-sponsored events may be discontinued. Library Board Chairman David Edelstein asked the public to be kind and understanding towards staff, who are providing excellent service despite trying circumstances. “We’re all in this together, and patience is appreciated,” he said.
In addition to hours reductions, library Outreach services have been eliminated to three of sixteen retirement residences: Ankar Retirement Park, Cordata Festival, and Village at Cordata. “Many residents of these private facilities are still mobile, and we are hopeful that they will continue to receive library services by visiting the library in person rather than having materials delivered to them,” explained Assistant Director Christine Perkins, who oversees the Outreach Department. “We’ve had staff reductions in this department, and this will allow us to focus on the elderly and others who cannot drive or visit the library themselves.” Services to residents at fourteen assisted living and skilled nursing facilities have not been affected at this time.
Rumors of additional citywide cutbacks in 2009 and into 2010 indicate the possibility that further reductions to library services may become necessary. “We feel that we’ve taken a huge hit already,” said Kiesner. “For a local civic institution that receives over 893,000 visits a year, we cannot sustain further cuts without significant impact on our ability to serve the public.”
According to the 2008 Washington Public Library Annual Statistical Report, Bellingham Public Library circulated 1,418,814 library materials in 2008. Per capita circulation tops 18.7 – the highest rate for libraries our size statewide and second only to Seattle Public Library for libraries serving communities with populations of 25,000 or greater. In 2008, Bellingham’s investment per reader came to $.39 – and this was before this year’s budget cuts. The statewide average across all libraries is $.58 per reader.
Revised Bellingham Public Library Hours