Small cuts to libraries mean big changes for patrons

Maybe we should read more classics. Did the movie “Silver Linings Playbook” do justice to Matthew Quick’s novel? When will we read “The Boys in the Boat”?

Our debates usually revolve around books. At my book club’s last meeting, we also discussed another subject. Should we start earlier?

Our club meets monthly, on a Wednesday night, at the downtown Everett Public Library. We’re often still chatting when we hear a librarian announce, at nearly 9 p.m., that the place will soon close.

Starting Sept. 2, hours will be cut at Everett’s main library and at the Evergreen Branch. Late closing times — three nights a week downtown and just two nights at the branch — will be 8 p.m., not 9 p.m. The branch is taking the biggest hit. It will be closed entirely on Sundays.

“No librarian likes to cut hours. Our whole thing is access,” said Eileen Simmons, the library’s director.

The change is only part of the Everett Public Library’s response to the city calling for some $200,000 in savings from the library operating budget. That’s related to the city working to tackle a $13 million budget deficit for 2015.

The City Council in June approved raising utility tax rates on electricity, natural gas and phone service, and enacted new taxes on cable and garbage service. There will also be a new $20 car license fee, and hikes in business license fees, mitigation fees for development, and land use permitting fees.

While many library users may be inconvenienced by the change in hours, some library customers are losing a crucial service entirely.

To save an estimated $213,000 per year, city administration proposed eliminating the library’s Outreach Services, including the bookmobile and a van that visits retirement homes. Those cuts have been approved by the Everett Public Library Board of Trustees.

“It’s the board’s decision what services we provide, and it’s the city’s decision how much money they give us to provide them,” Simmons said.

Kal Leichtman, 88, sees eliminating mobile library services as a loss in quality of life for many seniors and disabled people. The bookmobile also has gone to child day-care and preschool programs.

Leichtman lives at Cascadian Place, an Everett retirement community.

“Quite a few residents have used that service at Cascadian Place. I know there are seniors and disabled people in other places who rely on the intellectual stimulation the bookmobile brings,” he said Friday. “It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s more than it appears. It’s a diamond in the rough.”

In 2013, about 35,000 items were checked out from the library’s senior van and bookmobile, and almost a million items were borrowed from the two library buildings, Simmons said.

“Everybody hates to see the bookmobile go away,” she said. The library is looking at alternatives, including possible library visits using retirement home vans, the use of Everett’s Para Transit service, or ensuring that family members or neighbors may use a senior’s library card to get books. The library can also help people set up accounts with the Washington Talking Book &Braille Library.

Simmons said the library board had little choice but to cut library hours and Outreach Services.

In January, there were 12 librarians for both locations. In the spring, two librarians retired. “That brought us down to 10 people. That’s not enough to keep things going,” Simmons said, adding that 82 percent of the library budget is personnel. “All the managers work weekends, including me,” she said.

Her position and a technical staffer aren’t part of the count, nor are two employees in the Northwest History Room. Ending the bookmobile allowed for a mobile librarian to be back at the library. The city authorized one more hire to replace a retiree, as long the $200,000 cut was achieved, Simmons said.

Reducing the $600,000 materials budget, which has seen $100,000 cuts in recent years, would lessen library quality, she said. And if a budget turn-around ever occurs, bookmobile services could more easily be restored. Simmons said about $150,000 pays for a security guard and materials that can’t be cut.

The branch and downtown library have long shared the same hours. “This is a big departure,” Simmons said. Not only will the branch be closed Sundays, it won’t open until noon Tuesdays or Wednesdays. It also will be closed Monday evenings.

It’s too soon to judge how library users will react. “School hasn’t started. For a lot of people it isn’t real yet,” Simmons said. “It will be a big deal for people who use our meeting rooms, and for our programs.”

Her plan is to evaluate feedback for three months. In December, the library board is expected to vote on whether or not to permanently adopt the shorter hours.

“People were upset about Outreach Services. It was a budget decision, not something the library woke up and decided would be a good idea,” Simmons said. “There weren’t good solutions here.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Library hours

Starting Sept. 2, the Everett Public Library will reduce hours. The main Everett library and the Evergreen Branch will no longer have the same hours, and the Evergreen branch will be closed Sundays. New hours will be:

Main library: Monday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, 1-5 p.m.

Evegreen Branch: Monday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tuesday-Wednesday, noon-8 p.m.; Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, closed.

Information: www.epls.org/locations-hours.asp

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