Its budget reduced by 18.5% and short-staffed by 33%, Woodland Public Library is grappling with surging community patronage and remarkably, squeezing some improvements from imposed budgetary downsizing.

Library visits during last April set a new record: 26, 850. Circulation set a new record in July (2008): 32,617. Annual circulation records indicate a fifth consecutive year of growth — with almost 350,000 checkouts / renewals.

Only five years ago — less than 150,000 items were circulated. Public demand for all library programs is dramatically increasing; while, its abilities to deliver those services is seriously constrained by pervasive municipal budgetary crises.

New records for public usage will be difficult to set, however, since library hours have (on July 1) been chopped from 54 per week, down to just 40.

A deep cut in computer access time several months ago already demonstrates that public use directly reflects library access (4,458 users in April, dropping to 2,803 in June). Circulation figures for July-Sept. may be expected to reflect further aspects of public impacts of reduced library access.

An automated telephone attendant was recently activated, advising callers (in English and Spanish) of current — library open hours — before directing them to circulation, reference or children’s services.

___  Initial Budget Proposals Slashed Hours to 20 per Week  ___

An astonished panel of library trustees was greeted during March, with a city budget proposal wherein — all three presented options — assumed a drastic reduction of library hours —  from 54 to 20.

“Primary research revealed that the minimum number of hours for a main public library [in this region of California], regardless of budget, was 35,” expresses Woodland Public Library Services Director, Sandra Briggs, in her quarterly report to Library Board of Trustees.

Briggs’ report summarizes a community-wide political advocacy effort waged on behalf of the library, which resulted in city council adoption of a budget in excess of earlier proposals: at $1.13 million (18.5% cut), making possible through work by Briggs and related staff, library trustees’ adoption of a 40 hour per week schedule,

From the time when library budget reductions were proposed to be limited to 18.5% (May 26) and the time when the contingency of relevant concessions from labor associations was resolved and announced (June 22) — the library’s fate remained: “precariously poised between [40 and 20 hour weeks], rendering concrete planning useless.”

“As a result of the impact of [ ] dramatic staff reductions [beginning in May], the Board engaged in the difficult process of evaluating services against the core mission of the library, and weighing community input, authorized reductions in services which included the elimination of non-core services (closing Leake Center and eliminating test proctoring and obituary look ups) and reduced core services including children’s and adult programming, summer reading, public computer access,” describes Briggs’ report.

“Consistency combined with balancing all interests and elements within the community,” should predicate the nature of library schedule adopted by the trustees for a 40 hour per week format, suggested Briggs to trustees during their consideration of various approaches.

Trustees selected a schedule of open hours that offers two evenings per week (Tuesday and Thursday, noon to 8:00 pm) and two Saturdays per month (second and fourth, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm). In order to offer these open Saturdays, two Mondays (usually: first and third) will be slashed from the schedule.

Wednesdays and (usually second and fourth) Mondays now have library hours of 10:00 to 6:00 pm, and Fridays offer library hours of 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

___  Innovating Advantages From Downsizing  ___

Creatively adjusting to altered circumstances, Briggs and library trustees are discovering and evolving approaches that are actually improving patron services in some ways, while being forced to reduce them in others.

For one item, “[t]he library will [now] be operated with one shift with an anticipated ease in communication,” explains Briggs’ quarterly report.

Other strategic advantages (already) being developed by the library to variously improve public services include an enhanced self-check-out system for materials and the implementation of a new-materials pre-processing program — with both improvements making professional library staff more available to the public.

“With the exception of the media desk, the majority of public service will be handled by permanent staff,” states the report. “Despite the reduction in open hours, this would not be possible without the increases in self-check and the implementation of pre-processing [of newly acquired materials].”

During the previous year, self-check-out of materials increased from 17% to 29%, overall — with the average during the previous six months rising to about 40%.

“[A]s a result of the current downsizing,” outlines an attachment to Briggs’ report, “[t]he existing upstairs work area, including staff work stations, delivery and check-in of materials will be relocated to the ground floor in an effort to provide more public service space without increasing staff.”

This high-ceilinged and wide-windowed, well-lighted room of about 500 square feet, “is located precisely above the library’s mechanical room which houses the computer server and routers.”

Beneficial for several key reasons — including returning the portion of library lobby which overlooks its interior plaza to conventional use — the library will soon consolidate its public access computers within this former staff workroom — forging a newly designed: “computer laboratory, [  ] a concept that is prominent in public library settings.”

___  New Computer Lab  ___

The library will soon shift its 22 public access computers, along with a relevant staff desk, into this new computer lab space.

“The room is located directly adjacent to the circulation desk where a 4’ by 8’ interior window on the south side of the room provides excellent visual supervision for circulation staff. A similarly sized interior safety window is proposed to be installed by volunteers on the west side for both staff and public observation,” indicates Briggs.

“The result would be a dramatic decrease in noise and congestion[,] with increased staff supervision and oversight.”

Segregating computers within this enclosed precinct of the library will obviously improve its major-lobby ambience, as well as establishing a more coherent strategy for best accommodating various computer users.

With computers presently being strewn all throughout a major library lobby area, and slapped up against the long bank of large windows opening upon the library’s central plaza (much better suited to public seating, reading, gazing, etc.) — a significant deterioration of public library space has occurred.

A clear impression of the library not having a deliberately focused and facilitated computer area — will now be dispelled by this new computer lab — with a key gain of important public (lobby) space — alongside improved use of existing (ground-floor) work facilities for staff.

This is a distinctively winning convergence of strategies creating value for all library interests, well fashioned in the midst of deep service constraints.

___  Library Left Behind in Recent Municipal Growth  ___

The library has not been suitably supported by the city, in order to best accommodate the tsunami of community patronage which has swept through it during the previous five years.

This adverse municipal trend is starkly revealed by examining the levels of its various employees during this period of time (budget years 2002-03, 2007-08, 2008-09), within each city department, of which there are eight.

Three departments had the same number of employees — in both 2003 and 2009: City Manager, Parks and Recreation and the Library — while Woodland’s population has jumped over 11%, from about 50,000 to around 56,000.

Police (2003 to 2009) saw a 9% increase in staffing and the Fire Department staff increased by 10: 22%, while Public Works gained 15 new full-time employees, for an 18% increase.

The Finance Department received 3.5 new full time workers (up 21%), but by far the largest staff increase occurred in the Community Development Department: with 19.9 new employees (13 to 32.9) — escalating 153%.

Overall, Woodland’s municipal staff increased 19% — 2003 to 2009 — by 56.4 full time employees (302 to 358.4).

However, neither the Parks and Recreation Department — nor the Library — has ended up with any of them.

Another signal of historical municipal inattention to the library is the fact that there are at least 2000 square feet of prime library space (ground-floor, southwestern corner, adjacent to the Leake Room) left entirely unfinished since the library’s renovation — twenty years ago.

___  Volunteer Activity Rising  ___

4300 hours of library volunteer efforts, equivalent to more than two full time employees, occurred during the previous year, according to Briggs.

In addition to those hours, it is estimated that between the Friends of the Library, the Library Rose Club and its Board of Trustees, about 2300 hours of volunteer time benefits the library.

One project which the library is very interested in attracting volunteers to accomplish is a (delayed) full inventory of its materials. Briggs emphasizes that this inventory program is very flexible, with volunteers easily able to schedule time on a convenient basis.

“The Spine Tinglers [volunteer book repair] are being resurrected, and a customer service volunteer opportunity is being explored,” relates her report.

In other volunteer action, the Friends of Woodland Public Library has purchased two wall-mounted magazine racks for the Teen area (the most underserved population sector), and relevant magazines will be relocated there, while general magazines are being reorganized.

Three additional periodicals have been ordered to supplement the Teen magazine selection: two skateboarding magazines and a popular teen “people” magazine.

Also, for the second year, Lydia and Judy Swenson held a Girl Scout event in the Leake Room and collected money to buy books for the children’s room, collecting $380.49 on an Earth Day theme, then choosing to add more books on polar bears, pandas, gorillas and elephants.

___  Programming Proceeds, A Lot at Half-Staff / Half-Time  ___

Briggs’ quarterly report outlines an impressive flow of library programming, although some is now functioning at half of the previous staffing levels (usually one staff person, where previously there were two) and/or at half of the previous timing.

“Despite the reductions, enthusiastic audiences attended the less frequent story times for toddlers and pre-schoolers as well as two age level book clubs,” describes the report. “School tours increased substantially as the end of the school year approached, Eleven class tours were provided [for] grades K – 3, and two English as Second Language tours were conducted.”

“Four poetry workshops were conducted for three school age groups during National Poetry Month; while, two Sacramento-area poets entertained adults in the rotunda. Renowned storyteller Kirk Waller performed for a small audience for National Library Week.”

“With modifications and reductions, summer reading was launched without a kick-off event, on June 9th. Over 600 young readers were registered by the end of June, and approximately 375 people were in attendance at the first two programs (music and puppets),” states Briggs’ report.

“The Friends of the Library generously fund the performers, incentives, and refreshments fro program events. In addition, teen volunteers were instrumental in the preparation and facilitation of activities. The Teen Advisory Group held a “Green Day @ the Library” in conjunction with downtown businesses and several City Departments, approximately 50 people attending.”

Adult (summer) reading and regular “Brown Bag Book Club” continue at half-staff levels.

Although the Teen Advisory Group and Teen Book Club have been suspended, library staff hope to bring both back upon an internet format.

“Outreach efforts with schools continued to be a high priority. [Staff] alternated appearances at seven public school assemblies to promote summer reading. Flyers were distributed to every elementary student,” indicates the report.

Briggs also notes that significant improvements to the — “collections” — aspect of library affairs have been very well managed by its employees, under conditions of intense uncertainty. “Staff is to be commended for the attention to collection development in a challenging time period.”

All of the permanent staff append an impressive list of their work items (to this quarterly report), which are too extensive for reproduction in this article, but quite enlightening about the intricately detailed nature of library affairs.

___  Literacy Services  ___

The official name of the local literacy organization has been changed from Yolo Literacy Council to Woodland Literacy Council, and the group has a new mission statement and a prioritization of goals and activities, according to Briggs’ report.

A procedure manual was created for the Woodland Literacy Program, and the Literacy Coordinator has conducted three tutor training sessions, resulting in eleven new tutors. Six additional inmates at the county jail graduated with their GED (bringing total graduates to 141 — 45 from juvenile hall). Two additional notepad computers were purchased with grant monies for the Wayfarer Center in order to facilitate computer as well as basic literacy.

The Woodland Literacy Council received two grants during the quarter, $3,500 from United Way and $5,867 from a Woodland Community Development Block Grant. Applications have been submitted for a number of future / pending grants.