By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
The Dade County Public Library acknowledged a stinging defeat in its increasingly desperate battle for survival last week, deciding to cut services two additional days a week.
“Before, when we were cut, we just continued,” said Marshana Sharp, manager of the Dade facility, which is a branch of the Cherokee Regional Library. “But it’s getting to the point there’s nowhere to go.”
The library will stay open 30 as opposed to its current 45 hours weekly. Ms. Sharp said she expects the library will choose Monday and Wednesday as the weekdays to close its doors, though she and the staff are still conducting research to determine which days are most convenient to the public.
The closures are necessary because of staffing cuts. System-wide, some Cherokee Regional employees will lose their jobs entirely, but it is forecast that in Dade’s case it will be more a matter of two of the library’s three employees being slashed to part-time – if, that is, they stay under those circumstances.
“Some people who work full-time, they can’t afford for their hours to be cut,” said Ms. Sharp. She did not add the obvious – that pay scales for county library workers have never been stellar at the best of times.
These are far from the best of times. Of the Dade branch’s three local funding sources:
The Dade County government reduced its annual support from $69,500 to $64,800 for its 2012 budget.
The city of Trenton eliminated its library funding altogether for its 2011 budget, replacing its $30,000 annual endowment only provisionally and only after public outcry. This calendar year, said Misty Reyes, Trenton has thus far supplied the library only $5,000.
The Dade County Board of Education, which has for the past few year supplied $37,725 annually, will not announce its intentions as far as funding the library until August, but the library is steeling itself for bad news there, too. Indeed, it was the same state-level changes to employer-paid health insurance that recently devastated the schools that dealt the deathblow to the library system, too.
Ironically, the bad news come at a time when a long-delayed renovation of the library’s permanent building – underwritten through a different, cobbled-together pool of funding – is expected to be completed by August.
And also ironically, it comes at a time when the library has never been busier. Patrons cram daily into the temporary location’s 1,000 square feet to use the library’s computers, and a summer reading program for kids out of school has begun offsite, a service Ms. Sharp is not sure she’ll have staff enough to continue into August.
She thinks that’s a shame. Studies show that kids’ brains shut down in the summer if not provided stimulation, she said, requiring extra time to kick-start when school resumes in the fall. That problem will now be exacerbated by the budget-driven extension of summer vacation. “If we are not open to be open for those programs, how is that going to affect the children?” she said.
Library representatives did not put in their usual appearances at the monthly meetings of the Dade County and Trenton City commissions on Thursday and Monday, respectively.