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Library Department seeks to make up for funding losses during recession

Thursday, May 9, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

There was high praise and few dollars for the city’s Library Department at City Council’s work session last week.


“You guys get more done with less available, and every year we seem to be making it more and more difficult for you,” noted Council Member Bill Spelman.


In their budget forecast, the Library department has projected an overall an increase of $1.1 million for next year.


The library is also asking for funding for 15 full time positions, to replace temporary staff and add youth librarians. Two of the full-time positions would be security guards to help patrol all of the branches. The cost of these added positions would be just under $900,000.


Library Director Brenda Branch explained that while they would ideally like one guard per facility, that goal was “unrealistic.” Instead, she explained, they try to keep their incident reports from increasing. Currently, Austin Public Library has between 1,200 and 1,800 security incidents a year.


“When we ask you for something, we know we are low-balling it. We are trying to be a team-player and be modest,” said Branch. “So we try to be very tactical about what we ask you for. We need help in every area. You are not going to be able to do that.”


“We just try to keep the doors open,” said Branch.


Branch noted that they had periodically been able to add library staff, over the last six years, they had lost about 30 positions in all.


“We are expanding square footage, we are expanding materials, and we are expanding services all over the system, but with no additional staff,” said Branch. “It just keeps compounding.”


Tovo echoed back to an earlier discussion about the Police Department budget, and the idea of population-based metrics for baseline budgets. She noted that such a “safety net” for the Library Department might be useful, as their demand for services rose with population, and asked Branch for information on what areas might be impacted by increases in population.


Spelman ran with the idea, asking what a level of service floor for the department might look like. Branch explained that the library already did that, internally, benchmarking themselves against peer libraries.


“We aim for the average of our peer libraries. We’re not anywhere close, in a lot of different areas, but that’s something we can aim toward,” said Branch. She expounded on the rankings, explaining that Austin currently fell below average in areas such as average materials per capita, budget per capita, average staffing per service hour, and average custodial and maintenance personnel per square foot.


“We have a demand, especially for youth programs and computer programs, that we can’t even meet now. And as we add population, we should be adding additional story times and computer programs, and we aren’t able to,” said Branch.


Council Member Laura Morrison noted that circulation per capita continues to rise, though visits are down, most likely due to curtailed hours at many library branches. Branch said that every year circulation per capita has risen from two to eight percent.


“I think you do an amazing job with very limited resources,” said Tovo. “I wish the latter point weren’t so.”

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