As the recession tightens its grip on families and individuals, Goletans are using their Fairview Avenue branch public library significantly more-and the strain is beginning to show. Supervising librarian Allison Gray reports that circulation is up 10 percent over the same period in 2008 for books, DVDs, audio and videotapes, and similar items.
“We’re really busy for the size of library we have,” said Gray, who has been overseeing the local library this past year. She estimated that Goletans are on their way to passing the nearly 600,000 borrower transactions they made in 2008. This number, she added, is second only to the main library in the six-branch network of the Santa Barbara Public Library System (SBPLS) to which Goleta belongs.
Though heavy use has stimulated some new efficiencies. For example, instituting a system of advance reservations for its public computers has enabled the library to handle more Internet users. “We welcome everyone to the library and its computers,” said Gray, “but the old system allowed too few users to monopolize them.” Potential users must now register 24 hours in advance, but the computer is theirs for an hour instead of 20 minutes at a time. So far the new system appears to be drawing in a more diverse clientele, she said, adding, “I think some people are cutting back on their home computer costs.”
One major budget casualty has been the SBPLS’s Goleta-based bookmobile service to schools, camps, and to individuals who cannot physically get to libraries. It was discontinued on June 30, at least for the foreseeable future, and the part-time driver laid off. Bookmobile expenses had been split between Goleta and the main library one-third and two-thirds, respectively. At the same time, the acquisition of new and replacement materials was trimmed, one part-time and two full-time jobs were eliminated, and the facility’s hours of public access reduced.
It could’ve been worse. The Goleta City Council authorized a $50,000 transfer into the library’s operating budget from its reserves for books and collections, reports city manager Dan Singer. The parcel tax Goletans levied on themselves in 1990 to help fund library operating costs will bring in about $340,000 of the $1.1 million projected for the 2009-10 branch budget, according to Gray. (The City of Goleta is also responsible for upkeep of the library building and recently resurfaced the parking lot and installed a new air-conditioning system.)
Most of the rest of the operating budget comes from the county, the state, and donations. Despite these revenue streams, and the current cuts, balancing Goleta’s revenues and expenditures may need further adjustments as the fiscal year progresses into 2010.
One place to feel the effects of the cutbacks is on the wait list for novelist Dan Brown’s hot new book, The Lost Symbol. Though numbers cannot be broken out for only the SBPLS, earlier this month the lending arrangement among the public libraries of the tri-counties, known as Black Gold System, had 354 “holds” for the next available copy. At that point all 83 copies in the libraries of Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties were checked out.
Gray also spends a good chunk of her time now at the reference desk instead of in her office. She shrugs off the extra duty as something expected of all the staff. “They are really a phenomenal group, genuine public servants,” she said, noting that even when the building is closed someone must clear out the outside return boxes and sort books for shelving. That chore occurs on at least some holidays and some of the 13 furlough days when staff are off without pay.
Library hours at the branch on Fairview currently total 55 a week, and that includes the six hours on most Mondays that the nonprofit Friends of the Goleta Valley Library have pledged to pay for. When you buy membership or a used book from the group’s permanent book sale in the lobby you’re not only finding a great value but also helping to keep the library open longer than any other branch in the county’s system (excluding the main library).
In the coming months, the Goleta branch will be closed the Friday following Thanksgiving and the Saturday following Christmas Day. To see find all the scheduled closures, go to www.sbplibrary.org/hourslocations/index.html.
Want to help? Volunteers are frequently needed, especially to reshelve books. But Gray promises that you won’t have to show up on a holiday.