County libraries to re-open Mondays in January

Commissioners unanimously approve added hours; Stafford to open Sundays

The Washington County Board of Commissioners heard its constituents loud and clear and will re-open the county’s libraries on Mondays starting in January.

Commissioners Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution that restores Monday hours at all six Washington County Library branches and re-opens the WCL flagship R.H. Stafford branch in Woodbury on Sundays during the school year starting Jan. 2, 2013.

The re-opening of all branches on Mondays will occur one year after those branches were closed Sundays and Mondays on Jan. 2 for budget reasons. The WCL lost more than $250,000 when the Lake Elmo City Council left the county library system to open a city-run library, and saw its state aid reduced.

Under the plan approved Tuesday, county libraries in Woodbury, Forest Lake, Cottage Grove, Oakdale and Mahtomedi will open from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays. The WCL Valley branch in Lakeland will open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday.

The Stafford branch in Woodbury will open from 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays under a pilot program to determine how many people use the library on Sundays. Stafford will be closed Sundays from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

County officials said the $260,000 cost of re-storing Monday hours will come from a combination of increased filing fees in the Property Records and Taxpayer Services Department and the delay of a county technology project. The roughly $30,000 cost to open Stafford Sundays will come from county reserves.

WCL officials originally brought the proposal to restore Monday hours to libraries in mid-August. At that time, county officials told commissioners the branches could be re-opened on Mondays starting this month if that was the board’s choice.

But County Administrator Molly O’Rourke and WCL Director Patricia Conley said the early opening idea was scrapped because WCL must hire and train staff to handle the restored hours.

“It will entail the hiring of new staff,” Conley said, adding that the library system needs eight to 12 weeks to hire and train new staff.

Commissioners made it clear that they understood how county residents felt about library services.

“We’ve heard from our constituents loud and clear that library hours are important to them,” said Commissioner Autumn Lehrke. “Our goal is to serve the public, not only with books and the Internet, but meeting rooms, too.”

“We built the buildings to be used,” added Board Chairman Dennis Hegberg. “I think it’s good we are doing this for the people.”

He also notes that many residents use Wi-Fi service at some WCL branches when the libraries are closed.

“Even if the buildings are not open, people are there using the wireless (service),” Hegberg said.

The impact of technology is something Commissioner Gary Kriesel said WCL and county officials must study regarding future library use.

“We’re going to have to do a lot of planning and research for the future,” he said.