I want to thank you for your column which expresses your concern that we have temporarily closed the library on Saturday in order to balance our budget. I would be most concerned if the closure on Saturday went unnoticed or drew no comment as such would indicate that our service was not valuable to or needed by the community.
Last month, we were faced with the immediate reduction in the library's operating budget of $226,700. This reduction was a 20 percent cut in our allocation from Newton County in order to balance the county's budget because of declining revenues. We had to make some swift and difficult decisions as to how we could absorb the cut within the last four months of our budget year and keep the library operating. We cut our remaining supply and equipment budgets. We cut our remaining book budget by 90 percent. We cut our travel budget (these are the funds I reimburse staff to make runs to the bank, take books to the deposit collections, etc.). We cut seven positions from the budget (including two that already had been filled).
We began to re-negotiate our vendor contracts for reduced rates to the library. And with all that we cut, we still had to find other ways to reduce our costs to absorb the full $226,700 loss of funds. So we looked at reducing our utility costs in order to balance our budget.
We first reorganized our hours of operation to reflect the results from our 2008 survey where we asked when people could best use the library during the week.
Opening more days at 9 a.m. and closing the library at 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday nights was a direct response to the survey responses. Closing the library earlier on the two week nights would save us some utility costs.
In order to reduce fully our utility costs to meet budget goals, we then looked at the two best days when we would be able to close the library so we could drastically cut back on the heating and air conditioning of the interior, keep the lights off and not use any water. Sunday was one day as we were already closed. We needed to pair another day with Sunday so we could close the library for a full 48 hours in order to set back the heating and air enough to achieve the sustained cost savings that was necessary.
We considered both Saturday and Monday for closure. Saturday was chosen because, statistically, it is the day that the library is used the least. In 2008, the Saturday statistical count averaged 1,124 library users that walked through our doors. Throughout 2008, the Monday statistical count averaged 1,511 library users that walked through our doors. (To show how usage of our library differs from the library in Rockdale, Tuesday is our busiest day with an average of 1,815 people walking through our front doors).
Additionally, we chose to close on Saturday because the library's business office and receiving department staff must work Monday through Friday in order to keep the library operating. The rest of the business world operates Monday through Friday and many state offices that we report to require the business office staff to be available to contact on Monday. We receive many of our deliveries of supplies and books on Monday. Our PINES delivery of books from other libraries comes to us Monday through Friday. The State Library requires us to have someone in the library, on Mondays, to receive the shipment of PINES books from other libraries and to send requested books to other PINES libraries. I cannot achieve the same setbacks in the heating and cooling of the library with staff operating in a quarter of the building on Monday because the library's chillers and boilers are fully operating whether 15 percent of the building is staffed or 100 percent of the building is open to the public. Temporarily closing the library on Saturday, rather than Monday, gives me the energy cost savings that I needed to balance the budget in the remaining months of the budget year.
Your recommendation to reevaluate closing the library on Saturdays is also being requested by many library users. I, too, wish to reopen the library on Saturdays in order to serve those library patrons who are unable to visit the library during the week. In May, the Library Board of Trustees and I plan to reconsider Saturday hours.
Hopefully, we can re-open for a partial day of operation on Saturday if we have achieved the savings in costs that all of our current efforts have implemented. We can also re-open the library on Saturdays if we can find qualified volunteers to help shelve books and assist library users at our computers to learn how to look for jobs and create résumés.
Of course, restoration of Saturday hours of operation and other library services is all dependent on our allocation for the next fiscal year. In May, we will hopefully know if the Newton County Board of Commissioners will continue to fund the library at the current level of allocation into the next fiscal year or if the county commissioners find that they must further cut our allocation in order to balance the county's budget.
I remain hopeful that we will soon see a reversal in the current economic downturn, the county will see revenues increase and we will be able to restore fully library hours of operation and service to the public to what it once was several months ago.
Greg Heid is the director of the Newton County Library System. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.