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North Adams Library Trustees Reject Idea of Reducing Hours

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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The library is short-staffed but officials don't want to reduce hours of operation. The library serves a large area of North County and there's a fear that once cut, the hours won't be easily restored. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The library trustees agreed that they did not want to reduce the building's hours but also realized there may need to be a change in the future.
Administrative Officer Michael Canales on Wednesday went over possible solutions to solve staffing issues, such as cutting the library's hours. However, the trustees agreed that they rather would deal with staffing gaps then limit hours of operation.
"We will make it work," Library Director Mindy Hackner said. "We can continue to make it work."
Staffing at the library has been an issue for some time now and five full-time employees must cover the 46 hours a week the library is open. Hackner said there are often gaps when employees take time off that cannot be filled with part-time employees and volunteers. She added that in the recent past, she has had to close the building because she could not meet minimum staffing requirements.
Canales' initial solution was to go to being open five days a week instead of six in hopes of rightsizing the library's hours to its current staff. He said even with the full-time employees, 76 hours are left to be covered by part-time and volunteer staff.
Hackner said Friday tends to be the slowest day of the week but she was hesitant to give up even a slow day when there is such a demand for the building in the community.
"Our calendar is full. People want to use this building and the community has more needs," she said. "Even when we are closed people are in the parking lot using our wi-fi."
Canales said he is only looking at schedules from and financial and organizational perspective and noted there is no plan to cut the library budget, hours or staff in the fiscal year 2019 budget. He only offered a solution for staffing gaps.
Hackner then opened the floor to library friends and employees.
Youth Services Assistant Nancy Ritter said if anything, the library should look at expanding hours and adding employees to meet the growing need in the larger community.
"We are getting so busy we don't need to eliminate a day we need to add hours to accommodate the region," she said. "We don't just serve people in North Adams but Williamstown, Clarksburg and Adams. It does not make sense to cut hours."
Assistant Director Kim DiLego agreed and said the nature of the job has changed and library employees spend more "one on one" time with patrons not just searching for books but filling out resumes or helping them navigate a computer.
There was a concern among the Friends of Library that once hours are cut, the city will never give them back.
Hackner agreed that she did not want to reduce hours especially when the library and city seem to be growing.
"Right now, we are at a cross road and we have a choice," she said. "We are on a roll right now and we are building a different kind of library ... I look at empty storefronts and I don't want the library to be part of that. I want it to be open and busy."
Canales did note that in fiscal 2020 the city will have taken $1.1 million in debt off the books, some of which could be used in the library. 
He was asked if some money could be used to hire more staff and although he said nothing has been taken off the table, the money is more slated for capital improvements.
He noted there are not only needed capital projects in the library but said the recent city capital improvement plan is $65 million.
"We are going to have some options to look at and we want to invest in capital improvements," he said. "There are a lot of things we need to look at ... and I know people think it is a big number but it's not when you compare it to some of our infrastructure costs."
The trustees continued to brainstorm other staffing options and looked at possibly using money from the Friends or money left from the late Gailanne Cariddi to hire another employee, although some trustees were hesitant to use these funds for library operations.
Volunteers were also mentioned and Hackner said the volunteers they do have are great but often volunteers want compensation or to choose their own hours. She added that she did not feel it was appropriate to ask volunteers to take on full-time employee responsibilities.
Trustee Nicole Gordon said although the trustees may not want to change hours of operation it may be inevitable at some point.
This summer may be a good opportunity to experiment with scheduling, Trustee Donald Pecor said.
Canales did note that the population in Berkshire County continues to decrease and it may be in the library's best interest to start thinking about ways to rearrange staffing and hours.
He said this has been a reality other departments have had to face in the city. 
"Communities aren't going to survive and stay ahead if they cannot adjust to the times and realities," Canales said. "If we continue the status quo we may set ourselves up for failure at some point."
Before closing, Canales offered to be part of a subcommittee to explore other staffing arrangements in regard to budget constraints. 

Tags: fiscal 2019,   NAPL,   public library,   

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