Libraries In D.C. Plan Cuts In Hours

Ginnie Cooper, the District's chief librarian, said libraries would be closed on Fridays under the plan.
Ginnie Cooper, the District's chief librarian, said libraries would be closed on Fridays under the plan. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
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By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The D.C. public library system is planning a severe cutback in hours, including closing all branches on Fridays, because of $2 million in staff reductions in next year's budget.

The system may also close five kiosk branches, which are located in some of the city's most under-served neighborhoods but are expensive to maintain, officials said. Cutbacks would start sometime in October, said Ginnie Cooper, the District's chief librarian.

"We haven't set a date, because I'm still full of hope they won't be implemented," Cooper said yesterday.

She disclosed the plan last week in a meeting with library trustees and later sent a memo to the staff. She said she is working to try to restore the staff positions.

Carrie Brooks, a spokeswoman for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), said last night in an e-mail: "The Mayor doesn't believe that libraries should be forced to reduce hours, and the administration is committed to finding the money to resolve budget issues."

Although next year's library budget calls for the same amount of money as this year, the system is smaller by 74 employees, mostly because of a citywide early retirement incentive.

Vacant positions in agencies were removed from the 2009 budget. Fenty administration officials said many of them would be restored with reserve funds, but the D.C. Council eliminated that money after city finance officials projected a reduction in revenue, Cooper said.

Fridays were chosen for closure because they are the quietest. "We chose to be open when we are busiest," Cooper said.

Under the plan, hours at each of the system's 26 neighborhood branches would be reduced by 15 hours a week. In addition to the Friday closing, the branches would open later and close earlier on weekdays. The hours of the system's flagship branch, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, would be reduced by 16 hours a week.

The kiosk libraries are in Sursum Corda, Deanwood, Rosedale and Congress Heights and on H Street in Northeast. They are expensive to maintain because they are modular structures.

No staff would be laid off, Cooper said. She said only overtime made it possible to maintain current hours.

Library advocates said they believe the measures would be disproportionate to the problems.

"I don't think it's necessary, and I do believe the library system has in its budget adequate funds to keep the libraries open," said Robin Diener, executive director of the D.C. Library Renaissance Project. "The library at this time is well-funded to withstand a little belt-cinching."

In public meetings held two years ago on the future of the library system, Diener said, "the number one request was to keep libraries open as much as possible."

John Hill, president of the library board of trustees, said the system had no choice.

"We believe there's nothing else for us to do but cut back hours," he said. "We don't have the authority to hire more people than is allowed in our budget."

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