For the first time since 2011, Washington County's three flagship libraries will be open on Sundays this summer.
Public use of the branch libraries in Woodbury, Forest Lake and Cottage Grove on those days will be measured against Sunday use during the school year, Library Director Patricia Conley said. County Board approval of the summer pilot project comes just four weeks after the county reopened those three libraries on Sundays during the school year, from 1 to 5 p.m.
"For the residents, this is a return to historic service levels, and this means greater access, particularly for working parents and working adults," Conley said of the summer hours. "I can't commend the County Board enough for their commitment to library services."
The libraries' fortunes have improved recently as commissioners have restored hours cut during the recession. Conley credited commissioners with proposing the experiment with Sunday summer hours.
Commissioner Gary Kriesel said he wanted further study of what it would take to help the Stillwater Public Library also open on Sundays in the interest of consistency. Stillwater's city library, considered an "associate library" to county branch libraries, operates on a budget set by the Stillwater City Council.
"I'd like to know the financial consequences from a discussion with the city of Stillwater," Kriesel said during a County Board workshop last week. "I'm not trying to portray this that we're taking over the role and responsibilities of the Stillwater library. All those folks pay a tax, and it's an equity issue."
Lynne Bertalmio, Stillwater's library director, said her library never has been open on Sundays during the summer. The library lost its school-year Sunday hours in 2007 and hasn't had them since, except for 21 Sundays in 2011 when a benefactor from Bermuda paid for them, she said.
No money is available for Sunday hours in the 2014 budget that the Stillwater City Council approved, Bertalmio said, but "obviously, I would be interested. The public would be interested," she said. "People do use public libraries, particularly during a recession. We're certainly popular with the public."
About 40 percent of the library's users come from cities other than Stillwater, she said.
Recession took toll
Until 2012, Conley said, five of the nine Washington County branch libraries were open seven days a week. However, "facing significant revenue reductions," the county that year closed three smaller branches and reduced days and hours of service overall.
After those closures, the remaining six libraries were closed on Sundays. In 2013, only the county's largest library, R.H. Stafford in Woodbury, was open Sundays and only during the school year.
Conley said new Sunday hours will be measured by the number of residents who visit libraries, what materials they check out, what questions they ask of librarians and how many people log into library computers.
Because of approval for the summer pilot project, county libraries will be open all Sundays this year except Easter, Conley said.
In early September, before the County Board sets its preliminary 2015 property tax levy, Conley will submit a report describing how Sunday summer hours fared compared with school-year hours.
"It's a good investment for taxpayer dollars," Commissioner Fran Miron said.