Book-loving Sitkans are facing a major plot twist. City budget cuts are bringing the Sitka Public Library to a close every Sunday, starting last Sunday (07-10-16). The new facility, which opened doors in February, will maintain its current schedule the other six days of the week. KCAW met with Library Director Robb Farmer to ask how both staff and patrons are adjusting to the reduced hours.
To help close Sitka’s budget gap, city administration began talking with Library Director Robb Farmer about closing the library – one day a week. And his choice boiled down to Mondays or Sundays.
Monday, the library is open for ten hours (10 a.m. – 8 p.m.) and Sunday, five (1 p.m. – 6 p.m.). So, Farmer chose the shallower cut. “No day was great, but Sunday had the least downside,” Farmer said.
He adds that fewer regular employees work on Sunday. And Monday is a weekday, when supply companies and other libraries in the loan system make deliveries.
With the decision to close Sundays, the city estimates a cost savings of $47,000, though the final figure won’t be known until the end of the fiscal year. Taking into account one less day of operating costs, Farmer estimates it could be less – somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 in savings.
Farmer says his staff is disappointed and no matter how you slice it, the cost does sting. “I think libraries are people. They’re not things,” he said. “Anytime money decisions are made it affects people. And that’s the worst part of money crunches.”
Foot traffic on Sundays is steady. Walk in and you’ll see students printing projects for class and harbor residents checking their e-mail.
Farmer especially worries about patrons who seek out the library for safe haven, as is Fred Fayette. I find him seated by the window. “We have people here that are homeless, that come here every day. It’s warm and welcoming. Taking a day from them means they don’t have that,” Fayette said.
Fayette was on his laptop. He doesn’t have Internet on his boat, so comes to the library to keep in touch with his daughter in Seattle who is expecting a baby. The soon-to-be-grandfather think there’s no good day to close the library, though for him, there may be logic behind Sundays. “The employees here would have that day off. It’s a weekend and if they’re married, their spouse would have the day off,” Fayette said. “I guess if we have to have a day, that’s probably a day.”
Other library patrons weren’t so sure, especially parents who seek out the library for family time. Like Summer Mayo, who hadn’t heard the news.
Mayo: No way! Oh. Where are we going to go read book to the children? The whole school year? For what, budget?
Mayo often brings her daughter, Song, by the library after church. They read together for half an hour every day, so I asked Song what she thought.
KCAW: You want it closed on Sundays?
Song: Because then we get more play time with friends.
Dean Goodwin wasn’t worried either, saying, “I’m a Saturday guy anyway.” Goodwin added, “This is one of the most accessible libraries – in the communities I’ve lived – this one is by far the most user-friendly.”
Goodwin’s comment has some truth. With this closure, Sitka’s library is open 58 hours a week. That’s more than 15 other libraries in the state and same as Ketchikan. Petersburg is also closed on Sundays. But it’s a far cry from two years ago, when Sitka Public Library – then Kettleson Memorial Library – was open 71 hours a week.
City Administrator Mark Gorman called the library a “vulnerable area” for cuts this year and said a request by Farmer for $8000 in temporary staff wages was denied. “Further, it came to my attention that some staff are putting in additional hours they’re not compensated for – largely Robb – and I just didn’t think was sustainable,” Gorman said. “So, the decision to reduce one day a week I think was pragmatic though not necessarily popular.”
Unless the city can find more sources of revenue, Gorman does not think the library will open on Sunday anytime soon. However, Gorman added, “We’ve got a first class facility and I would like to believe in the future if our fortunes change that it will be open again seven days a week.”
As for Farmer, he’s heard plenty of negative feedback from Sitkans, though he interprets this as a positive sign that the building is truly beloved. :They see the value of why it’s here. And I hope they can focus on value of what’s here,” Farmer said. “So if they can’t be here on Sunday, please come on Saturday!”
Farmer reminds patrons that digital services will continue 24/7, which means that even when the doors are closed, you can still place a hold, use a database, and download an audiobook at will.