Champaign Public Library may cut hours

Champaign Public Library may cut hours

CHAMPAIGN — The city's main and branch libraries would be open 31 fewer hours during the week — most of those in the evening — if officials cannot close a $500,000 budget gap before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Champaign Public Library officials say it's an unfortunate, but realistic, side-effect of decreasing property values, which are responsible for 92 percent of the library budget.

The library has spent the past several years making cuts to close budget gaps — including holding 14 library jobs vacant — and library Director Marsha Grove said it cannot cut personnel anymore and continue to operate for 12 hours per day during the week.

"We've tried everything over the years," Grove said. "I think we've been very fiscally responsible, and unfortunately I think there was always hope that property taxes would get better. But they didn't. They got worse."

The announcement comes a little more than two weeks before library officials plan to make their annual pitch to the Champaign City Council, which must approve the library budget.

Property tax revenues dedicated to the library have already been set. Library officials may request additional money to cover their budget shortfall, but they would be competing for funds typically reserved for other city services such as the police and fire departments.

Library board President Mark Ballard said library officials got clearance from city administrators last week to make the situation public. He said they did not want library patrons to be caught off guard.

"We have spoken with administration for the city, and we were asked to request a general fund transfer from the city to the library to help cover the deficit," Ballard said. "But the police and firemen are also in the same position that we are, and the city council is going to have a really big job trying to figure out what are the city's priorities."

The first of those discussions is scheduled for a May 14 city council meeting.

"Unfortunately, we're now to the point where costs have continued to go up, and we can't really cut back anymore on people without cutting hours," Ballard said.

Monday through Friday, the main library would open one hour later — at 10 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. — and close two hours earlier, at 7 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. The Douglass Branch Library would close all day on Monday and two hours earlier on Tuesday through Thursday. All weekend hours would remain unchanged.

The budget year starts in July, but Grove said she plans to ask for three months to adjust her staff to the new hours. That means the hour reductions could go into effect at the beginning of October.

Grove said her staff spent a lot of time evaluating which hours would be the best to close. The bulk of the reduced hours are at night because it costs more to staff the library during the evening than it does in the morning and it was the only way to cover the deficit, she said.

Ultimately, that means evening programs — like book clubs and author visits — will take the biggest hit.

It also means that it could lose its four-star rating from Library Journal, which for five consecutive years has rated the Champaign Public Library among the top libraries in the nation. Circulation weighs heavily in how the journal rates libraries, but with fewer hours, Grove thinks "the star rating will go away because the numbers just won't be there."

It does not get better. Grove said that, based on the projections she has seen for property values against the rising costs of operating a library, the budget picture does not brighten for Champaign during the next few years.

"If we don't have additional funding, then I think the likelihood of having to reduce again might be there," Grove said.

Michael La Due, who sits on both the city council and the library board of trustees, said the situation puts the city in an "awkward" position.

"We've spent the last two years talking about how best to address the needs of fire safety and police services," La Due said. "This is something new added to our plate."

He said officials have begun exploring new revenue streams they might be able to use to slow some of the shortfalls in the future, but that is a long-term solution which could not be put in place immediately. The short-term solution to the half-million-dollar budget question in the next year has yet to be debated.

Based on informal discussions La Due has had with other city officials, he has not gathered what kind of consensus might be forming among the other elected officials. He is concerned, however, about how services during the evening will be "severely compromised," especially with the way libraries have evolved over the years.

"A public library is less about books ... and more about programs," La Due said. "And to the degree that adults use the library as a city center and a resource, that takes place in the evening."

A library is "a place of last resort for people who are determined to improve themselves," La Due said, and he said he expects the situation facing Champaign's library will precipitate some discussion in the community.

"The community needs to own its library," La Due said. "The community needs to be conscious of it and what it has become."

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mankind wrote on April 29, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Sounds like it's time to follow U of I's cue. State Farm Library?

Sid Saltfork wrote on April 29, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Kindle Library, or Amazon Library?

My common sense is tingling. wrote on April 30, 2013 at 1:04 pm
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Maybe they should have thought about the astronomical costs of such an overly extravagant building before they built it. Having worked there, as well as other libraries in LTLS, I would gladly take several hourly employees over their POS return conveyor belt that's always breaking. That, along with the mecahnical bins that items go into cost thousands and thousands of dollars. And they are always breaking. Plus, I liken that building to an airport terminal: bland, mostly featureless, with plastic smiles, and forced customer service.


ittfmw wrote on May 01, 2013 at 9:05 am

These comments are ridiculous.  The costs of the new building are not related to the annual operating costs associated with the property tax values. 

The beautiful building, it's books, and the people who work there are all top notch and something to be proud of in this community.  I am a frequent user, and bring out of town guests there all of the time.  I don't know what I'd do without the library.

The staff are genuinely helpful.  I don't know what you mean by "plastic smiles".  Maybe you are used to seeing rude unwelcoming staff at other places you go.  I've had several odd requests for books and information and they always find a way to get me what I need.  With a smile.  A nice smile.

I love all of the technological advances at the building.  I'm proud to say that my library keeps up with what's gong on in the world.  I have never been there when any of it was "out of order".

Look around.   This is by far the best library in downstate Illinois.


Publius wrote on April 30, 2013 at 3:04 pm

There are plenty of problems with city government in Champaign, but the library is not one of them.   Veteran employees of the city have set fire to their own car along with that of a colleague, plus ineptly let a man drown in a pond (Fire Department); driven their car the wrong way down an interstate while drunk, plus shot and killed an unarmed youth (Police Department); been arrested for drunk driving twice, with the second incident punctuated by several parked cars rammed (City Engineer); or have publicly so mishandled their inter-personal affairs as to have has two restraining orders  applied for against them (The Mayor).  Compared to that, the library is absolutely unblemished.  Perhaps the City Council should re-evaluate their priorities and direct more support towards, the library, an agency that over the years has effectively and quietly provided for the public good, and away from those that are racked by wanton malfeasance, repeatedly incur legal liability, and frankly embarrass the city and its taxpayers.  That’s called “returning on loyalty”.