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Burbank libraries facing tough decisions during the summer

Burbank libraries facing tough decisions during the summer
Rory Pennington, a sixth-grader at Jordan Middle School, gets his school identification card activated at the Central Library. With many departments, including the library system, facing a hiring freeze, officials must find where cuts can be made. (File Photo)

All departments are starting to feel the heat after the passage of Burbank’s 2018-19 budget, which is looking to address a roughly $200,000 deficit.

With a six-month hiring freeze across the board, department heads are trying to figure out how to keep their services up to par.

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Elizabeth Goldman, director of the city’s library services department, will have many items to consider over the summer, such as whether programs should be cut, if a branch should be shut down for one day a week and how to maintain the library system’s level of service as employees retire in the coming months.

The department is budgeted for 65 full-time employees for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. However, Goldman said there are currently seven vacant positions and three employees who will be retiring in the coming weeks, leaving her with 10 spots she cannot fill because of the hiring freeze.

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Goldman said the three branches — the Central Library, Buena Vista Branch Library and Northwest Branch Library — see about 850,000 visitors each year, and about 40,000 people use the services offered.

With residents expecting the same level of service despite fewer employees at each library, Goldman said she will have to be creative when staffing the branches’ various events and programs.

“The staff here are really devoted to the community, so they’re really working hard to figure out how to minimize the impact,” she said.

Some of the programs, including those for summer reading, are safe for now. However, that might change during the fall.

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Goldman said local libraries will continue to offer the same services and programs visitors are used to, but might cut back on offerings should they prove to be too much for her short-handed staff.

During the upcoming summer months, Goldman said she and her staff will reconsider the library system’s core services and determine what needs to stay or go.

“We’re working on making sure we don’t make any cuts that have a major impact on any one group of people,” she said. “We’re trying to do our best to offer as much as we can and keep things as close as possible to where they are throughout this hiring freeze but also not overcommit. We don’t know how many more people we might lose.”

The library director said service hours at the branches might be reduced, in which some branches may close earlier or open later. She added that a full closure of a branch has not been an option for her.

The City Council recently adopted a cost-recovery model for departments to use to try and recoup some of the losses when providing various programs and services.

Goldman said she has started to look at if that could help local libraries but added she understands the possible negative impacts of charging visitors to use services.

“If we started to charge, then people would most likely just go to one of our neighboring libraries that doesn’t,” Goldman said. “We’re definitely not one of the revenue-generating departments in the city, and the more we try to become one, the less it would be a public library. It’s really a fine line for a library to start charging.”

Other services that might be affected are the libraries’ movie nights and entertainment-based lectures, which Goldman said might have to be cut back temporarily due to the staffing shortage.

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“People are going to be upset no matter what,” she said. “It’s not like it was anything that was fading away and no longer [needed] anymore. People still do want all these programs and services to be offered.”

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