Southwest Public Libraries to reduce hours this summer

Southwest Public Libraries (SPL) will shift to reduced summer hours beginning June 1 due to staffing shortages caused by cuts in public funding. From June 1 to Aug. 31, SPL’s hours will be:
•Monday through Thursday: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
•Friday and Saturday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
•Closed Sundays

Five weekly operating hours have been cut from the least busy times of library use. The change, voted on and approved during the May SPL Board of Trustees meeting, became necessary as the library enters the 11th month of its ongoing hiring freeze and faces higher than ever reductions in public funding. The hiring freeze was originally put in place in August of 2023 due to anticipated reductions in state funding from the Public Library Fund (PLF).

The PLF is the library’s primary source of funding accounting for 62 percent of the library’s operating budget with 35 percent coming from the library’s local levy. Library administrators and board trustees have been closely watching the PLF, and in August of 2023, when PLF projections for 2024 showed a significant reduction, asked all departments to cut their budgets by 10 percent. Additionally, the director instituted a hiring freeze. The goal was to reduce costs but avoid impacting library services.

All departments successfully rose to the challenge of cutting budgets with minimal impact to services and did their best to work around staffing shortages caused by vacated positions left open due to the hiring freeze. State funding failed to meet the already reduced August 2023 projections and has continued to underperform revised projections in 2024, resulting in a loss to the library even worse than anticipated.

Because of this, the library’s director decided to keep the hiring freeze in place, leading to a growing staff shortage. The shortage has now reached a point that is no longer sustainable at current operating hours. Currently, nearly 20 percent of all total hours for public-facing positions have been left open due to budget constraints. For every shift in June 2023 with five staff persons, there are now only four to carry the same workload in June 2024.

Not only has physically staffing desks during operating hours become increasingly difficult – and often impossible when sickness or emergencies arise – it has impacted staff negatively leading to increasing cases of burnout.

“Our team has shown incredible dedication and work ethic in the face of these challenges,” said SPL Director Meredith Wickham. “They have carried the load so well that their struggle was largely not visible to the public. So far, services have continued without interruption or reduction. But serious signs of burnout are showing. We can cover for a missing colleague for a few days or weeks without risk to operations, but our folks have been doing this for months now, and it has become unsustainable.”

Denise Southworth, assistant director at the Westland Area Library location, said that department managers have needed to cover public service desks more and more frequently, and that it has caused difficulty for some in completing their managerial tasks successfully or in a timely manner. One manager estimates they now spend 35 to 40 percent of their time covering public service desks, time they would have had in the past to focus on needed trainings, staff meetings, administrative duties, and program planning.

So far this year, the state’s public library fund has underperformed projections. Compared to the same time last year, SPL has lost more than $169,000 in funding from the state, a sum that would cover most of the salaries of the currently open positions through the end of the year.

“The latest PLF numbers that were released in May has it underperforming by 3.77 percent year to date compared to January projections. If we continue at this pace of 3.77 percent under estimates, the potential impact is an additional $175,201 reduction in PLF amounts from the latest estimates. The last two months experienced significantly higher underperformance. If this high underperformance continues, we could realize an additional revenue loss of $315,692,” said SPL Fiscal Officer Debbie Blair.

The library expects to receive revised PLF estimates in August. However, if underperformance continues at the pace of April and May receipts, SPL will face a minimum of $539,509 less in funding compared to 2023. Library administrators and board trustees plan to reassess library hours and staffing this August after receiving the latest estimates.

Meanwhile, the library board approved cutting five of the library’s 65 weekly operating hours to help make up for the staffing shortage, knowing that SPL’s Summer Reading Challenge, with huge crowds during weekly children’s programs and increased weekday usage by all ages, will place an even more demanding workload on the team in the coming months.

Sunday hours and the last hour on Friday were selected to cut after analysis of usage patterns determined them to be the least busy hours during the months of June, July, and August. Fewer library patrons visit the library, use the meeting and study rooms, and use other library resources during those hours compared to the rest of the week.

“Our goal is always to be fiscally responsible with public funds while ensuring the sustainability of the library and its services,” said Bill Mann, president of the library board.

“Of course we are hoping this change is temporary and that state PLF revenues rebound soon,” said Wickham. “Meanwhile, even when it means making hard choices like this, the library is committed to fiscally responsible stewardship of the public funds entrusted to us by the people we serve. This change allows us to stay fiscally conservative and still hold an amazing Summer Reading Challenge 2024. I know it’s going to be our best Summer Reading yet!”

Learn more about the library’s Summer Reading Challenge for kids and adults and the variety of programming offered for all ages this summer at swpl.org.

About the PLF and library funding

In Ohio, public libraries are funded in part via the state’s Public Library Fund which is derived from the state’s General Revenue Fund. Each month, certain state tax receipts go into the state’s General Revenue Fund, and 1.7 percent of those receipts are then distributed to Ohio’s counties for use by their libraries. In Franklin County, the county’s portion is further divided among the seven public library systems that serve the county, following a formula with several metrics including service population size and library usage.

While all Ohio public libraries receive funding from the PLF, according to a distribution formula, overall funding percentages can vary vastly among Ohio public libraries due to local levies. Libraries that derive higher percentages of their funding from local levies are not as affected by fluctuations in the PLF. Currently, PLF funding comprises 62 percent of SPL revenue while 35 percent comes from the library’s 10-year, 1-mil levy.

About Southwest Public Libraries

Southwest Public Libraries is the second largest library system in Franklin county and serves a service population of nearly 150,000 people spread across 119 square miles in southwest Franklin county and surrounding areas through its two branches, Grove City Library and Westland Area Library. The library system provides access to millions of items through a consortium partnership with 17 central Ohio libraries. Visit www.swpl.org for more information.

 

 

 

 

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