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Library commissioners resist idea of cutting libraries further

Wednesday, February 4, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Members of Austin’s various boards and advisory Commissions will sit down Thursday with City Manager Marc Ott to discuss which mid-year budget cuts to recommend to the City Council next week.


Members of the Austin Library Commission met this week to prepare for the meeting, but found it difficult to stomach the thought of any further cuts beyond what the library system has already endured. “More than ever, in tough economic times, the value of libraries increases,” said Commission Chair Carol Martin.


Library Director Brenda Branch told the commission she had already presented the staff’s proposals for cutting costs to the management team and advised commissioners that it was unlikely the department could escape any cost-cutting measures.


She asked the commissioners to consider the two major expenditures for the library system: staff payroll and the acquisition of new books and materials.  “Every time we have a budget cut, obviously, one of our top priorities is to avoid layoffs,” Branch said. “Having said that, we’ve already been through quite a few recessions…and never having recovered fully from previous cuts, most of our line items are pretty bare bones. We have pretty much exactly what we need to operate. There’s really not much I can offer up.”


The commission passed a resolution opposing any layoffs within the department. The group also passed resolutions urging the City Manager to strive to avoid cuts to the department’s budget for acquiring new materials, which Branch described as “one of the lowest in the country…when you compare it to other cities of similar population”.


The only other option is to cut library hours, which the libraries have already done. In October 2008, the department began closing most branch libraries one additional day per week. Most branches are only open five days per week, with the exception of three branches and the Central Library, which are kept open on Sundays.


Branch said the schedule meant there was always a nearby branch open for patrons to visit, but the prospect of keeping libraries open only four days per week disturbed some members of the commission. “It’s just not a workable situation,” said Commissioner Wendy Price Todd. “People don’t go to the other branch. The people who go to Twin Oaks, they’re not going to Ruiz…or Cepeda or Terrazas. They only go to Twin Oaks — that’s their library.”


So the commission is asking the City Manager to consider shorter hours of operation each day. Most branches are open from 10am until 9pm at least three days per week, then 10am to 5pm or noon to 6pm the other two days. The commission passed a resolution suggesting alternate opening or closing times on additional days while still keeping each branch open five days per week. “In this horrible time, we don’t want these bad things to happen, but this is the least painful of all of them,” said Commissioner Gloria Meraz.

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