The New Haven Free Public Library will now switch into weekend mode a day early with the rest of us — the city will no longer offer circulation services on Fridays.
Until last June, the main branch of the New Haven Free Public Library offered its services seven days a week “as a public library should,” said city librarian James Welbourne. But with the end of the last fiscal year, the operating budget of all New Haven libraries was cut from $4.1 to $3.7 million.
This cut resulted in a loss of 36 full-time and 27 part-time workers, and forced the library to discontinue Friday hours.
The result of the budget cut and of the subsequent decrease in personnel was that the library could no longer maintain its previous service hours. The main branch is no longer open on Sundays, and, more recently, the Board of Aldermen voted to allow the library to close on Fridays as well. Welbourne said the library’s closure was not a voluntary act, rather “[the library] had to adjust because of the funds, but it’s not meant to be disrespectful to taxpayers.”
Ward 7 Alderman John Halle decried the recent cutbacks, saying “the city should only cut as a last resort.”
New Haven had to cut the libraries’ operating budget because of Connecticut’s recent budget crisis. Moreover, New Haven’s continual population decrease causes revenue from city taxes to diminish.
With the new budget cuts, the New Haven library system, which has three other branches in addition to the Elm street location, has roughly $100,000 a day to operate the four buildings, Kathie Hurley, library public relations director said.
At the same time, she and James Welbourne both concede that the public library requires 1.5 to two times that amount to run all four branches. Under the current budget, the branches are unable to maintain the preferred number of 15 to 25 workers per building, forcing the library to operate at a level closer to the mandatory staff minimum of 10 employees.
“[The ideal number is] more people than one would think,” Welbourne said. “When you’re well-staffed, you can cover it, but when you’re understaffed, if someone’s sick, it’s a safety issue.”
Libraries in general receive the most traffic during the beginning of the week and on Saturdays, Welbourne said. As Friday traditionally saw the least number of patrons, the cost-benefit analysis was clear.
“The extras go first,” Welbourne said.
Hurley said that despite Welbourne’s claim of low Friday turnout, the library has received numerous complaints about the recent closure.
“I think it’s fine,” reader Carl Peterson said, “but both days [Friday and Saturday] would be nice.”
But Welbourne said he was still somewhat optimistic about the return of Friday service by the end of the calendar year. A library fundraiser is currently scheduled for Nov. 14.
“We could be more flexible if we just got some more resources — probably more likely after December,” he said.