Downtown Library to Reduce Hours, Staffing Due to Budget Shortfall

The downtown library will be closing an hour earlier Monday through Thursday.

The City Council unanimously approved a strategic plan that will reduce the downtown library's weekday hours by four and reduce the number of people at the service desks to help make up an estimated $500,000 budget shortfall at the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year.

San Rafael's libraries, located in downtown and at the Al Boro Community Center, currently operate with a $4 million budget, the lowest library budget in all of Marin County. Two thirds of their budget comes from the city's General Fund and the remaining 30 percent comes from the Measure C parcel tax that voters passed in 2010.

Despite the tax, which allocates funds for the next seven years, staff costs grow between 4 percent to 8 percent every year due to healthcare, pension and retirement obligations even though public employees are not getting increased benefits.

The new plan, which the council approved in its Monday meeting, was the result of several weeks of community outreach during the summer, where staff questioned residents about what library services they needed most.

“We talked to over 300 people and got a really good idea of what people wanted or didn’t want from us,” Library Director Sarah Houghton said.

Over the last year, the amount of people using library services has increased. Checkouts went by 3 percent. Adult program attendance increased by 36 percent, and children's programs attendance increased by 17 percent, according to Houghton.

Despite the increased needs, the library's parcel tax funds were not sustainable for the full seven years without changes. People surveyed also showed the desire for better facilities, a solid collection of books and media, computers and laptop work areas with power and wifi and comfortable seating, according to the staff report.

“For Pickleweed and downtown that meant [the buildings are] too small and a little run down," Houghton said.

In addition to the weekday hour and staffing reductions, the library will also eliminate rental fees for DVDs and CDs, fill the vacant assistant library director position and use half of the funds set aside from the library parcel tax.

Councilman Damon Connolly questioned if reducing operating hours was the right decision, since longer hours was a major reason voters approved Measure C.

Houghton said that impact will be minimal because the downtown location does not see many patrons after 8 p.m. From 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., the amount of interactions between patrons and library staff drops by almost 50 percent than the previous hour, according to the staff report.

The reduced hours will save the city $27,000. Pickleweed Library's closing hours are already 8 p.m. and will not be impacted. Sunday hours will also remain the same.

Houghton also plans to test reduced staffing at the service desks at the downtown location for one month to evaluate the impact. Currently, the three service desks are staffed with two people during most open hours, where most libraries only have one person. 

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