Update: On Friday, the county reinstated the library’s hours. See statement at the bottom of this story.
by Susan Dickson
Following public outcry regarding a recent slash in hours of operation at the Carrboro Branch Library, county officials say some of those hours could be restored.
In late June, Orange County library officials announced that due to cuts in temporary staff funding, public libraries across the county would reduce their hours of operation starting July 1. Although each branch manager made the decision as to how the cuts were allocated, Carrboro Branch Library director Jake Lehrer said because Carrboro relies so heavily on temporary employees he had no choice but to reduce the libraryâ€™s hours of operation. The library cut its hours from 24 to 17 hours a week, with the library closed all day on Mondays and Fridays.
â€œIt basically cut our hours by 36 percent, right in the middle of summer, right when people need libraries the most,â€ he said. â€œLibraries are one of the very few things that are open to all people of all income levels.â€¦ Theyâ€™re one of the great equalizers, and when that is not available, that seems the most unfair.â€
County Manager Laura Blackmon said she was working with members of the Orange County Board of Commissioners and county staff to reallocate funding to the libraries.
â€œWeâ€™re working on trying to reestablish those hours,â€ she said. â€œWhat Iâ€™m trying to work on now is to figure out how to reinstate the hours for Carrboro and Cedar Grove.
â€œWeâ€™re trying to pull funds together.â€
The Cedar Grove Branch Library reduced its hours from 36 to 28 hours per week and the Central Library reduced its hours from 64 to 60 hours per week. The Carrboro Cybrary did not reduce its hours.
Blackmon said that each branch of the library has its own level of funding and that branch directors could choose how to allocate that funding. At the Carrboro Cybrary, for example, the director chose to cut programs instead of hours, she said.
Overall, the county budget cut funding levels for non-permanent personnel by an average of about 66 percent. Funding for temporary employees at all county libraries was reduced, with the Carrboro Branch Libraryâ€™s funding reduced by the highest percentage, about 63 percent. At the Carrboro Cybrary and at the Cedar Grove Branch Library, funding for temporary employees was reduced about 61 percent.
Funding for temporary employees was reduced by about 28 percent at the Central Library.
According to county officials, this yearâ€™s county budget was particularly tight because the county is scheduled to open 11 new facilities, plus debt service payments on past projects are higher than in yeas past.
According to Lehrer, 65 percent of the Carrboro Library staff are temporary or part time, so the countyâ€™s cuts to temporary staffing were especially hard on the library.
â€œI felt that the only way that the commissioners and Orange County would understand what that does to us was to close the doors,â€ he said.
Lehrer, who recently announced that he will resign his position Sept. 1, said he feels that the Carrboro Branch Library has been consistently neglected by Orange County Library administration and government.
â€œI think Orange County in general has a chip on its shoulder about Carrboro,â€ he said. â€œI think they think of Carrboro as a privileged portion of the county that doesnâ€™t deserve what the rest of the county deserves â€¦ just as they view Chapel Hill.â€
Lehrer said the recent funding cuts were the â€œtipping pointâ€ for his decision to resign. He has served as director of the Carrboro Branch Library since 1996 and has worked with the Orange County Library system since 1984.
â€œHere we are trying to serve 20,000 people, now open 17 hours a week,â€ he said.
Lehrer added that he has to come to the library on the days it is closed just to empty the book drop, which gets clogged with books.
The Carrboro Branch Library has about 5,000 registered borrowers and circulates about 5,000 books per month.
Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy requested additional library funding from the county commissioners this year, citing statistics that about 40 percent of the libraryâ€™s patrons are residents of Orange County outside of Chapel Hill. The Chapel Hill Library is only partially funded by the county â€“ about 11 percent â€“ and most of its funding comes from the town.
Orange County Board of Commissioners Chair Barry Jacobs said he expects the hours will be reinstated at the Carrboro Branch Library, adding that he understood the concerns of residents regarding the reduced hours.
â€œWe want to provide quality library services to everybody,â€ he said. â€œWe have a system that is kind of distorted because Chapel Hill has been so great about supporting its library.â€
Jacobs said he anticipates another tight county budget next year, and that the county needs to figure out a way to better fund its libraries.
â€œThe reality is we need help,â€ he said. However: â€œItâ€™s not something that can just change overnight; itâ€™s government.â€
The Carrboro Branch Library is open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.
Statement from Orange County about library services:
Orange County Public Libraries Reinstate Hours of Operation
HILLSBOROUGH, NC â€“ Hours of operation for all Orange County Public Libraries will be reinstated beginning July 28, 2008. County and Library management have re-visited the departmental budget and identified certain purchases to be delayed until next fiscal year and a reduction in monies budgeted for inventory replacement. These adjustments will generate funds sufficient to cover the temporary personnel costs for hours of operation at the Main Library and its branches. Please note these changes.
Orange County Public Libraries
Mon â€“ Thurs 9 â€“8 pm
Fri 9 â€“ 5 pm
Sat 9 â€“ 5 pm
Sun 1 â€“ 5 pm
Total 64 hours
Mon 3:30 â€“ 8 pm
Tues â€“ Thurs 3:30 â€“ 8 pm
Sat 10 â€“ 2 pm
Sun 1 â€“ 5 pm
Total 26 hours
Mon â€“ Thurs 11 â€“ 7 pm
Sat 10 â€“ 2 pm
Total 36 hours
Mon â€“ Fri 9 â€“ 5 pm
Sat 10 â€“ 2 pm
Total 44 hours
For additional information visit the Orange County Library website
http://www.co.orange.nc.us/library/orange/ or call (919) 245-2525.