Thoughts from County Native and Arlington Public Library Director, Diane Kresh
The following is based on questions and answers that have been exchanged in recent weeks. This should be a bit easier to read than the comments section of the previous blog entry. Of course those comments will remain online.
Library Proposed FY 2010 Budget FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
How were library circulation statistics and other numbers used in formulating the proposed budget?
The circulation numbers cited are from Fiscal Year 2008 statistics, the most recent complete set of numbers we have. The percentage of circulations for a branch is the total number of circulations transacted at that branch divided by the total number of system circulations for FY 2008. Books sent to Cherrydale, for example, to fill holds (regardless of the owning branch) are counted as Cherrydale transactions if checked out to the borrower at Cherrydale.
Arlington Public Library keeps usage system statistics as required for national library metrics each year. The proposal to reduce hours at Aurora Hills, Cherrydale and Glencarlyn was a difficult but well-researched business decision based on where reducing hours would have the least impact on the overall Arlington community and the Arlington Public Library system.
Historically and currently, Aurora Hills, Cherrydale and Glencarlyn have the lowest branch percentages in terms of circulation and visitation. These are the two overarching statistics used in the field of libraries to evaluate usage. While reduced hours clearly create an inconvenience for some users of the Library system in some locations of the County, the goal is to maintain a viable Arlington Public Library system with the least inconveniences overall. According to the statistics, Aurora Hills, Cherrydale and Glencarlyn are simply utilized less than other branches in the County system. (Plaza Branch Library & County Store is a special case and an explanation appears below.)
The cost to serve patrons at a specific location is not isolated to the direct cost of operating the facility itself. Other costs across the Library system are incurred to provide services at any location. Arlington Public Library is a system with many centralized budget items. Certain staff members perform duties that involve multiple sites and those responsibilities can vary on a daily basis.
We are pleased that Arlingtonians love their library system. We do too, especially because many staffers live in the County. And we tried hard to preserve the best of what we do at our busiest locations within budgetary constraints. We are not stopping anything we do. We are reducing hours so that we can repurpose staff to fill existing vacancies and open a brand new, larger facility in Westover later this year without being able to hire additional staff.
More Arlington Public Library statistics can be found here: http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/Libraries/about/BranchComparisonStatistics.aspx
More proposed FY 2010 Library budget information can be found here: http://www.arlingtonva.us/Departments/ManagementAndFinance/budget/page68674.pdf
More proposed FY 2010 County budget information can be found here: http://www.arlingtonva.us/Departments/ManagementAndFinance/budget/page67119.aspx
Why close the current Westover branch for three months this year?
The most current information we have is that the new Westover-Reed building will open in October. Closing the building allows us to ensure a smooth transition to the new facility. By closing in July, we also realize a one-time budget savings of $32,000 that would have been designated for temporary workers.
How will the new hours for the library system be established?
We are considering all suggestions for a system-wide schedule. Everything is on the table for discussion as we remain committed to providing the best level of service we can given the circumstances. The goal is to be open 24 hours a week at Glencarlyn, Cherrydale and Aurora Hills. Which hours/number of hours/days we are open is subject to discussion and we welcome feedback as we look at options to meet the greatest demands on the system within our budget constraints.
With limited staff and money to run each facility, reducing hours at some sites enables us to retain the best of what we do. And we hope to create a schedule that is not so complicated that no one can remember when we’re open. Such varied hours of operation would be a disservice to the whole community.
We are not restructuring the Library system at this time—we are belt-tightening, which is why we chose to reduce hours, trim our materials budget, freeze vacant positions and hold spending in operations costs to system-wide savings. Each branch and Central are part of a whole known as Arlington Public Library and we look at this process from that vantage point.
- Respond to service demands in the busiest locations. There are staff shortages throughout the library system due to vacancies, a hiring freeze and position eliminations.
- Respond to the increased service requirements at the new Westover Branch Library, which will have twice the space of the existing facility. Two permanent positions reallocated from the Cherrydale branch will serve at the Westover branch.
- Reduce use of temporary employees to cover vacation leave, sick leave and other staff shortages across the entire library system. The permanent branch positions are not eliminated; affected staff will be reassigned to work in other branches and Central Library.
How will the library collections be affected by a reduced budget for new materials?
The Library makes the best use it can of the money it has for collections. Funding was already cut in FY 2009 because of state reductions and the budget will be reduced further in 2010. We continue to look at the collection needs of the system as a whole to determine spending priorities.
Since we are a small community and make deliveries every day but Sunday throughout the system, we try very hard to provide our residents with what they need. Our goal is to keep our system-wide collection both broad and deep with a mix of popular materials at each location.
As we have neither the space nor the budget to duplicate the entire library collection at each location, we rely on our system of deliveries to ensure that Arlington residents can get what they need where they need it as quickly as possible.
How are volunteers used by the Library system and could they fill the roles of some staff members?
Volunteers are always welcome. The challenge is to find the right balance between the use of permanent, professional staff (many with masters degrees in library science) and volunteers. The Library has always used volunteers and will continue to do so. We greatly appreciate each and every one. They are wonderful.
as many as 1200 hours per month. This level of support is enormously helpful to our professional staff and enables us to do “more with less.” But professional library staff are also privy to patrons’ confidential information and for everyone’s protection, tasks that involve such access are performed by only a handful of specially trained volunteers.
Can donations of materials help the Library’s collections needs?
The Library welcomes donations of materials in good condition and yet, approximately 99 percent of donations are not needed for the Library’s collection so it is not an effective offset to our materials budget, overall. That said, donations sold by Friends of the Arlington Public Library at its semi-annual book sales (and in small sale displays at our locations) make for an immensely valuable and cost-effective program.
Almost all Friends book sale proceeds come back to the Library to support Library programming and to purchase new materials for our system, which benefits all of our branches and Central.
Why is Plaza Library and County Store treated differently than other branches?
The Plaza Library and Arlington Store is a unique, new component to both the Library system and Arlington County Government operations. It provides government reference service for County staff, manages the County store and serves as “information and referral”—a switchboard, if you will—for all County offices and services. It is not open at night and on weekends because it has a specific mission not shared by the rest of the libraries in the system, including Central.
Why is Central Library treated differently within the system?
Central Library is not a branch and is designed to provide a number of unique services and materials that can’t be duplicated throughout the system. Central is a hub, not a spoke. Central libraries traditionally have the most hours within a system.
The last reduction in hours within Arlington Public Library took place in July 2008, when the 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. hour was eliminated Monday through Thursday at Central Library so staffing and resources could be redirected to busier times of day. This reduction helped meet Fiscal Year 2009 budget cut requirements that resulted in part because of cuts in state aid. At the time no library in neighboring jurisdictions and no Arlington branches were open past 9 p.m. and that remains true today. Central Library is now open 72 hours per week, more than any other central library in the region.
Will the Library be raising fees and fines?
For the proposed FY 2010 budget, the Library recommended raising the fines for overdue materials, and increasing the fees for both interlibrary loans and printing.
Raising fees will realize a small amount of additional revenue for the County. The Library has not raised its fees since 1998 and we have now proposed bringing them to a level consistent with that of other jurisdictions. One example: the price for printing a sheet of paper from an Arlington Public Library computer terminal will rise from 10 cents to 15 cents. The cost of using a copier is already 15 cents per sheet and will not rise.
Arlington Public Library is fortunate to have reciprocal borrowing agreements with other local jurisdictions, both a privilege and a convenience Arlington residents benefit from. Because of the reciprocal borrowing agreements, made possible through the Council of Governments, we do not charge for this service and similarly, Arlington residents who borrow from outside of Arlington are not charged.
We are opposed to charging for using library materials, no matter how nominal the fee. Charging for use runs counter to the mission of a public library, which is to provide free and open access to residents regardless of their ethnic background, educational level, or economic status.
In addition, the Code of Virginia says the following: “The service of books in library systems and libraries receiving state aid shall be free and shall be made available to all persons living in the county, region, or municipality.” (Code 1950, § 42-31; 1970, c. 606.)
“The term ‘books’ as used in this chapter may be interpreted in the discretion of the Board to mean books, magazines, newspapers, appropriate audiovisual materials and other printed matter.” (Code 1950, § 42-32; 1952, c. 494; 1970, c. 606.)
Could Library facilities be rented out to raise funds?
It is important to note that County administrative regulations prohibit the use of County conference rooms, including those in libraries, for profit-generating activities. We would also need to evaluate the additional costs of opening the facilities when the County is closed (e.g., cleaning services and security) and the increase in building wear and tear.
Keep in mind that food is not allowed in the public spaces of libraries during operating hours so that would factor in as well.
How can Arlington consider cutting library hours during the current economic troubles when no library in the United States was closed during the Great Depression?
A cursory Web search finds a number of libraries indeed closed during the Depression, from Seattle to Texas to North Carolina and up to nearby Bethesda. No doubt there were others, probably even in Virginia. Library hours were also affected.
The New York Public Library website tells us this about that system: “As a result of reductions in the 1934 New York City budget, ten branch locations of The New York Public Library were closed from June – September 1934, according to The New York Times (May 11, 1934, p. 23), and the Staten Island “book wagon” and the “Bronx Traveling Library” were stopped, as well. Six other branches – non-Carnegie branches – had substantial reductions in hours of service, and those hours were not restored until the fall of 1939, according to the Times (September 13, 1939, p. 25).”