BUDGET CRISIS: Library Cutting Cleaning, Overdue Notices
Story and Photos by George Southern . . .
With the entire City staff looking under sofa cushions for spare change, Mary Riley Styles Library trustees held an emergency meeting Wednesday to approve spending cuts proposed by Director Mary McMahon.
First out the door would be the Library’s full-time custodian, who had already decided to resign and return to his native Colombia. His position would not be refilled – instead, in an innovative cost-saving measure, the City’s Recreation and Parks Department would pick up most cleaning chores for the Library.
Other Library staff would also have to help out with chores such as emptying the outside book return bin, carrying out the recycling, and setting up rooms for meetings. But a big advantage of custodial help from Recreation and Parks is that it would be available weekends, when it’s “desperately needed,” McMahon noted. That’s when the Library gets its most use.
The cleaning consolidation should save $35,000 a year. Not enough — so next goes the audio/visual position that is already vacant due to the City’s hiring freeze. Permanently eliminating it saves another $56,000.
Still not enough. Time to start scraping for loose change. The Library spends upwards of $3,000 a year mailing out overdue and hold notices. The trustees agreed that money could be saved by just emailing patrons. Arlington and Fairfax counties have already taken this step, McMahon reported. The Library will do an “email drive” to encourage patrons to provide their addresses.
Then came the sticky question of travel funds to attend professional conferences, budgeted at $2,835. McMahon proposed cutting conference funds to zero, leaving only $600 for mileage. Trustee Chet DeLong balked: “You really shouldn’t shortchange your staff on that – I imagine that morale is already not at its best.” But trustee Edward Rose emphasized that library priorities had to be 1) protecting the library’s collection, 2) protecting staff jobs, and 3) maintaining public access. “Conferences come below all that.”
In the end the trustees voted unanimously to approve all suggested cuts, which for the remaining part of the fiscal year should be worth about $90,000. Trouble is, that only gets the Library through the end of next June, after which additional cuts may be demanded by the City. Then, said McMahon, “we’ll be looking at closing scenarios.”
Final budget cuts will be determined by City Council, so the trustees’ vote is only a proposal to the City.
There was only one bit of good news, and even that was bittersweet: Donated books sold by the Library could help offset some cuts such as conferences. After a massive donation, “we sold $5,000 worth of books in two months,” McMahon said.
But that was then. In the current economy, book sales are down. “People aren’t buying,” McMahon said, “even at 25 cents a pop.”
By (see byline)
October 15, 2009