With more than a half-million dollars in possible cuts looming, directors of the Santa Barbara Public Library System are actively seeking community comment about what services are essential and which can be cut. To that end, Library Director Irene Macias is hosting a public meeting next Tuesday night in the Faulkner Gallery at, where else, the downtown library. Among the many proposals on the table, Macias has suggested increasing the charge for use of the Faulkner Gallery from $75 for three hours to $100. More dramatically, Macias is also considering closing the library on Mondays. Specifically, she hopes to hear what kind of trade-offs the public is inclined to make: Do they want hours maintained at the expense of programs — like the library’s adult literacy campaign — or programs preserved at the expense of hours?
Last year, the library absorbed $300,000 in cuts; the new book acquisitions budget dropped from $330,000 a year to just $190,000. As a result, librarians find themselves struggling to secure enough copies of the 50 most popular books while maintaining a breadth of selection. “It’s like going into a grocery store with people at all the cash registers, but all you can find are canned goods,” she said, “and no fresh fruits or vegetables.” Given the current economic climate, Macias opposes increasing overdue book fines. With the growing popularity of the Internet, she said the demand for reference services have diminished. But she added that reference librarians spend an increasing amount of time helping patrons apply for unemployment benefits or jobs online. While Macias has been asked to outline possible cuts totaling 12 percent of the library’s annual budget — in response to a projected shortfall of $9 million — she’s hoping the bloodletting won’t be so extreme. If employee bargaining units agree to wage and benefit concessions, the need for cuts will be reduced.