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Budget Thu Oct 13 2011

Reducing Chicago Public Library Hours Might Be a Bad Idea

Yesterday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel officially released the preliminary 2012 budget for the City. (Link opens PDF file.) One of the highlights of the budget is a reduction in hours for the Chicago Public Library system.

According to a press release from the Mayor's office, the reduced hours are expected to save the city $7 million. The press release says, "While many other cities across the country are shuttering libraries in these tough economic times, Chicago will keep all of its libraries open by reducing service hours across the board. Despite reducing the weekly hours, all of the programs and services Chicagoans use at the libraries will remain intact."

The CPL operates 78 library locations throughout the city. According to the preliminary budget, 9.5 million materials are checked out of the system each year and 2.7 million computer sessions are done at the libraries each year. Additionally, the library annually has a summer reading program for children and in 2011, 1.4 million books were read by 58,663 children. (Next year's program will apparently be called "Rahm's Readers," which has a nice sound to it.)

For a while, libraries around the country have been reducing hours due to budget issues. On many levels, cutting funds from libraries and reducing their hours doesn't make sense, but public schools also have funds cut even though they serve the same purpose as libraries: educating.

The problem here is that if hours are reduced for neighborhood libraries, even in the mornings, that reduces the access to a library. Although the Mayor's office suggests that the move wouldn't affect many Chicagoans, it could still impact quite a few. What about stay-at-home moms who want to take their children to the library in the morning to find books to read?

Currently, the neighborhood branches have very odd hours. For neighborhood branches the hours are from 10 am to 6 pm Monday and Wednesday, 12 to 8 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 am to 5 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and its closed on Sundays. The plan for reducing the hours would require the libraries to be closed for four hours on Monday and Friday mornings. This means the libraries will be open for an even shorter time on those days.

The puzzling aspect of reducing the hours is that libraries offer computer access as well as resources helpful to finding a job. Shouldn't these resources be more accessible during a poor economic state?

There is a major city that seems to have noticed the need for libraries in this economy. In Milwaukee, Mayor Tom Barrett released a preliminary budget for 2012 that would increase the hours Milwaukee Public Libraries are open. (Link opens PDF file) Milwaukee is about a fifth the size of Chicago and the MPL system is made up of 13 libraries as well as a drive-up location at the city's Central Library.

In the proposed budget, it is explained that hours will be increased by 44.5 per week throughout the system, fulfilling a strategy of increasing access to services at the MPL in order to improve Milwaukee's literacy rate. Additionally, the budget plans on the MPL holding 600 classes for Milwaukee residents to work on job skills and resumes as well as 700 computer classes. This would also reduce previous cuts to library services.

So here's a smaller system in a smaller major city that has decided to increase the hours locations are open because people need libraries. Regardless of if the method is electronic or print, people use libraries to learn.

Mayor Emanuel seems to really be focused on getting the City's finances on the right track, but reducing the hours of the libraries might be a bad idea. This still has to be approved by the City Council, but maybe the one area of the city that shouldn't be cut are the hours for the library. Couldn't we have ditched Taste of Chicago instead?

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thatbob / October 14, 2011 6:06 PM

Sharing my perspective from inside one of the branch libraries:

-Mondays are consistently our busiest day, sometimes double the traffic we see on a Thursday
-The few "quiet" hours before school lets out are exactly when staff are busiest: pulling, packing, unpacking, and shelving your branch-to-branch hold requests, receiving and processing new books and materials, as well as checking in the overnight book drop and whatever mess was left from the night before
-These are also the hours that seniors/adults/job searchers most use the computers - once school lets out, it's mobbed with kids
-Where exactly is the cost savings in limiting hours of service, unless you also layoff staff or cut back on their hours? Which, we have been told, will not be done...?

On another hand, we really ARE quiet on Friday and Saturday mornings, and shortening branch hours of service would be better than closing them... but as my patrons and alderman were complaining to me, the library ALREADY operates on a bare-bones system. Hours were cut back two years ago, and we've been limping along with 2/3 staff and a hiring freeze for 5+ years now. Many branches don't even have a children's librarian; some have to go without a page!

Oh well, I understand cuts need to come somewhere. Guess I'll be sleeping in on Mondays and Fridays. Maybe I'll work on my novel in my extra free time. :P

bob con. / October 15, 2011 3:09 PM

bob, we know it is you. and layoffs are coming.

Pissed off / October 17, 2011 11:48 AM

Layoffs are on upon us. All hourly employees will be laid off which include all pages and hourly clerks. And lets not forget the Librarian IV's.

Monica Reida / October 19, 2011 10:14 AM

Thatbob, I figured that at least on Mondays there would be traffic from people who aren't at work or school during those hours. I realize this is a different situation due to its location, but I've been to the HWLC on a Friday morning and people are waiting to get in when it opens like it's Macys.

From what I understand, all layoffs and the hour changes will have to go through the union that represents the librarians before they are approved. If there are layoffs coming, that seems a little more problematic since the budget said there would be three more YOUmedia locations to be created in Chicago. I would imagine a YOUmedia location would cost more money than a regular Young Adult section because of the digital focus.

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