STAFFING STRUG­GLES

Lux­ury of full-time chil­dren’s li­brar­ian ca­su­alty of Cov­ing­ton li­brary bud­get cuts

The Covington News - - Front Page - AM­BER PITTMAN apittman@cov­news.com

For decades Carol Du­rusau has been a sta­ple at the chil­dren’s desk of the New­ton County Li­brary on Floyd Street. It was not un­usual to see her dressed up, danc­ing with chil­dren, act­ing out the sto­ries in the books and speak­ing with chil­dren and par­ents about which book would fit per­fectly with each child. But since the spring, her desk has been empty — in fact, it has been re­moved. And al­though Du­rusau has not been cut, the po­si­tion of a full-time chil­dren’s li­brar­ian has been, leav­ing many par­ents up­set and con­cerned about the fu­ture of the li­brary. But hers is not the only po­si­tion that has seen changes.

On Jan. 1, the New­ton County Li­brary Sys­tem was forced to lay off sev­eral em­ploy­ees due to de­clin­ing rev­enues and in­creas­ing costs. The Cov­ing­ton branch lost eight of its 27 em­ploy­ees, the Porter Memo­rial Branch lost four of its 11. An­other 16 had their salaries cut. Those cuts were sched­uled to save

$200,000 for the re­main­der of the 2012 Fis­cal Year (which ended June 30) and a to­tal of $400,000 over a full year.

The li­brary’s bud­get was re­duced to $1.58 mil­lion. Li­brary of­fi­cials orig­i­nally asked for a $2.35 mil­lion bud­get be­cause the sys­tem had the added cost of oper­at­ing the Porter Memo­rial Branch, on Ga. High­way 212 for a full fis­cal year; how­ever, both state and lo­cal fund­ing fell this year. In all, the li­brary has seen a 57 per­cent re­duc­tion in staffing since this time last year.

“The cuts were painful for ev­ery­one but nec­es­sary to main­tain li­brary ser­vice to the res­i­dents of New­ton County,” Li­brary Di­rec­tor Lace Keaton said in a pre­vi­ous story to The News. “We are hope­ful that when our bud­get re­cov­ers as the econ­omy be­comes more sta­ble, we can re­store some of these po­si­tions.”

The li­brary sys­tem does not have any money avail­able this year to pur­chase new books or ma­te­ri­als, and li­brary board Chair­woman Lois Upham pre­vi­ously said the li­brary was not even re­new­ing sub­scrip­tions of ex­ist­ing ma­te­ri­als.

Upham said Keaton was be­ing very sen­si­tive to the staff’s needs and de­sires while mak­ing the most ef­fi­cient cuts pos­si­ble.

“We want peo­ple to be aware that there are con­se­quences when the li­braries don’t get suf­fi­cient fund­ing, un­happy things,” Upham said. “But we’ll continue to do our best.”

While li­brary of­fi­cials pledged to do their best, the strain is show­ing, and not just with the po­si­tion of chil­dren’s li­brar­ian.

In the chil­dren’s por­tion of the li­brary, there are shelves that have books just shoved on them, but not in any sort of or­der be­cause they have no one to sort and re-shelve the books. Chil­dren and par­ents com­ing in search­ing for a book might not be able to find what they were look­ing for, even if they searched in the right place. Many books in the adult sec­tion are also sit­ting on carts, wait­ing to be re-shelved and checked out.

“We have not cut the chil­dren’s li­brar­ian po­si­tion at all,” said Keenan. “We have fewer staff, so ev­ery­one has ad­di­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, in­clud­ing me,” she said, adding that the li­brary also no longer has a per­son re­spon­si­ble solely for ref­er­ence ei­ther since the cuts. “We all take on ad­di­tional tasks and work as a team,” she said.

She also said that the chil­dren’s pro­grams are still pro­vided on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, and while they may have de­creased quan­tity, they have not in qual­ity.

The li­brary has lost a lot of fund­ing through the county and state and a lot of li­brary cuts be­cause of it. I think that peo­ple don’t re­al­ize what’s hap­pen­ing be­hind the num­bers,” said one of the li­brary’s reg­u­lar pa­trons Tamela Mills. “They need vol­un­teer help, they need money…we don’t see what’s hap­pen­ing in our community un­til it’s too late… Fam­i­lies are notic­ing that they can­not find the re­sources that some fam­i­lies need. It’s no fault of the staff — it’s just not there.”

A let­ter re­leased by Mills, and sev­eral other con­cerned par­ents, reads: “The ref­er­ence li­brar­ian is gone and the chil­dren’s li­brary staff has dis­ap­peared from the room. Lines to speak to a staff per­son at the front desk are ridicu­lously long and even young kids are wait­ing in line for an­swers, but no one is able to lead them to the re­source they seek... I am see­ing what looks less like a stop-gas mea­sure and more like a de­cid­edly dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion in our li­brary’s fu­ture. Mak­ing sure per­ma­nent changes will likely had a far-reach­ing ef­fect on our community’s pri­or­i­ties — al­low­ing jails to win over ed­u­ca­tion.”

New­ton County Mag­is­trate Court Judge Kim De­go­nia is also con­cerned about the state of the li­brary.

“The chil­dren’s li­brar­ian — with all of her wis­dom and knowl­edge — has been as­signed to pass out li­brary cards while the chil­dren’s li­brary is a col­lec­tion of half empty shelves of mis­filed books; and row upon row of un­shelved books, DVDs and au­dio books; all of which wait weeks to reach the ap­pro­pri­ate place on the shelf. Our li­brary staff is won­der­ful. Each one of them is anx­ious to help…but there is no longer a chil­dren’s li­brar­ian or an or­ga­nized chil­dren’s li­brary to be a re­source to our community.”

Keaton ac­knowl­edged both the cuts and the way they have af­fected the li­brary and those who work there and use the ser­vices pro­vided. She said that with a high vol­ume of us­age at the li­brary they have less sign to shelve the books and longer wait times. She said that sum­mer read­ing is a big time for the li­brary and usu­ally busier and that they are cur­rently work­ing on hir­ing staff to re­place those that left months ago due to re­tire­ments and res­ig­na­tions, which will help with the prob­lem. She stressed that they were not adding em­ploy­ees as much as re­al­lo­cat­ing the money they cur­rently have for va­cant po­si­tions.

“We had to do such a dras­tic cut,” Keaton said. “We didn’t ex­pect it and the un­for­tu­nate part is when you loose 57 per­cent of your staff, the abil­ity to pro­vide ser­vice at the same level is not pos­si­ble. But we are com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing the best level of ser­vice that we can or ev­ery­one. There are no plans to cut chil­dren’s ser­vices at all. We have just had to re-or­ga­nize and re-eval­u­ate what we do be­cause of our bud­get.”

Keaton said the li­brary al­ways wel­come vol­un­teers of all ages, and those in­ter­ested should merely contact the li­brary. She also said that do­na­tions were al­ways wel­come at the li­brary.

Wil­liam Braw­ley /The Cov­ing­ton News

Chil­dren read to them­selves Thurs­day at the New­ton County Li­brary on Floyd Street.

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