WCL branches could reopen on Mondays in October

Washington County Library branches would reopen Mondays as early as this fall, a county official said today.

County Administrator Molly O’Rourke told the Board of Commissioners that savings from reduced spending in other departments could be used to resume Monday hours in October at WCL branches.

“If commissioners are comfortable with this, we could proceed with opening in October if the board desires,” she said.

Commissioners not only indicated their support for reopening county libraries on Mondays, they also asked WCL staff to study costs of reopening some branches on Sundays.

O’Rourke’s comment came during a workshop on a WCL proposal to reopen five of the county’s six branch libraries on Mondays starting in 2013.

WCL Executive Director Patricia Conley’s proposal calls for WCL branches in Woodbury, Forest Lake, Cottage Grove, Oakdale and Mahtomedi to open from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays in 2013 under a proposed six-day schedule. Only the WCL Valley branch in Lakeland would remain closed Mondays.

Currently, all WCL libraries are closed Sundays and Mondays. The branches went to a five-day schedule in January in response to the loss of $489,000 in revenue through lost state aid and Lake Elmo’s decision to pull out of the WCL and start a city-run library, taking with it more than $250,000 in levy funds.

Conley told the WCL Board at its meeting Monday in Woodbury and commissioners at the Tuesday workshop that library administrators looked at options to reopen branches on Sundays and Mondays at the request of county administrators and other officials.

Reopening the five branches would cost WCL $236,000, Conley said. Opening branches on Monday rather than Sunday keeps the county’s libraries hours in line with the days and hours the Stillwater and Bayport Public libraries are open, she added.

“That is our recommendation,” Conley said. “That’s the immediate proposal we are making. We kept the same hours, we’re merely adding a day.”

Conley told commissioners Tuesday that she sought their feelings about the Monday opening proposal.

“Today, the library would like to get a reading on adding hours in 2013,” she said. “We need you to advise us as to what is feasible.”

Conley told both the library board and commissioners that her proposal to reopen some branches Monday was made based on feedback from library users, studies of library use and certain budget assumptions, including a zero percent levy increase in 2013.

“It has to be simple. It has to be acceptable to you as elected officials and to the public. And it has to be affordable,” she said.

O’Rourke added that commissioners will get a proposed 2013 budget later this year with no levy increase, but with additional funds for libraries.

Although Conley’s proposal keeps county libraries closed Sundays, she acknowledges that library users want Sunday hours restored.

“While we assume we can’t afford to be open Sundays, we know there is support for it,” she said.

Commissioners Autumn Lehrke and Lisa Weik offered suggestions on opening branches Sunday. Lehrke asked if WCL administrators could shave 30 minutes from opening and closing times at branches and use that time on Sundays.

But a WCL staff member said Lehrke’s idea puts full-time librarians on a six-day workweek while many other county employees are on five-day workweeks.

Weik’s idea had WCL branches open Sundays from Labor Day through Memorial Day.

“I’m going to push for Sundays,” she added.

“Pat put forth a number of scenarios, but it got confusing,” O’Rourke said. “We can come back with alternatives.”

Commissioner Gary Kriesel said he wants to see the Valley branch included in the Monday opening plan.

“If we’re going to open five of them all week, I’m very concerned that the Valley branch is not open Monday,” he said. “What would the cost be to have them open Mondays. I don’t want all the focus to be on the flagship libraries.”

Commission Chairman Dennis Hegberg said he wants to see the county’s libraries “open as much as possible for people” and added that he supported the WCL proposal.

I very much support the recommendation and I would suggest using reserve funds to add hours.” he said.