Washington County libraries could be open on Mondays by fall

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 27, 2012 - 6:59 PM

County Board is considering how to restore hours and personnel at several branches after many patron requests.

Washington County Library users want more hours to check out books and use computers, and they might get them as soon as this fall.

At a workshop session last week, the County Board got its first look at proposals that would restore Mondays and increase hours at five of the system's six branches in 2013. It is even possible that some of the hours and staff that were cut in 2012 to save money could be brought back sooner, said County Administrator Molly O'Rourke.

"If the board feels comfortable and wanted to pursue it, they could be open by October," she said.

That might be a bit optimistic, but board members seemed eager to find the money to bring back service by next year without increasing taxes.

The county closed all of its libraries on Sundays and Mondays in January and eliminated 11 staff positions after its budget was cut by $489,000. Part of that was a loss of $260,000 that Lake Elmo took with it when the city withdrew from the county system to start its own library.

According to one plan outlined by Library Director Pat Conley, it would cost $236,000 and require nine more staff members to resume Monday hours at all branches except Valley in Lakeland. The plan would also add about 10 hours a week at libraries in Woodbury, Forest Lake and Cottage Grove, and eight hours a week at branches in Oakdale and Mahtomedi. Those five would be open Mondays through Saturdays.

The Valley branch would continue to be open 20 hours a week, Tuesdays through Saturdays. In total, libraries would be open 281 hours collectively, up from the current 234.

To add four hours of Sunday service at Woodbury, Forest Lake and Cottage Grove would cost $34,200 per branch. It would cost $13,000 each to open Sundays at Oakdale and the Wildwood branch in Mahtomedi.

Conley said the Sunday and Monday closures triggered numerous complaints. A survey conducted by the library indicated that patrons wanted more hours of access than anything else on their wish list, she said.

Conley delivered a memo outlining the costs associated with reinstating those hours, and asked for direction as she prepares next year's library budget, which is to be presented on Aug. 14.

"I'm excited that we'd be open Mondays," said Commissioner Lisa Weik, who represents Woodbury, home of the county's largest and busiest library.

O'Rourke said library staff members are prepared to present alternatives to Conley's plan if directed by the County Board.

Whatever is decided, "it needs to be simple, acceptable to the public and the board, and affordable," Conley said.

To free up money, O'Rourke said the county could postpone its Virtual Desktop Project until 2014. The project calls for the county to buy hard drives to be shared among several employees instead of each having their own. She also said that the county has some dollars that could be redirected to libraries because many departments have "been well managed" and countywide spending is under budget.

Nothing is imminent, and any changes in hours, staffing or tapping budgets from other departments for libraries will require board action. But the board seemed keen on the ideas.

"We want them to be open as much as possible," said Commissioner Dennis Hegberg.

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib

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