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Sonoma County libraries ready to cut back hours


The Sonoma County Regional Library Commission is scheduled to vote Monday on a new, reduced schedule that cuts public hours by nearly a quarter and has prompted intense debate and criticism.

The schedule offered for approval Monday has been slightly revised since Library Director Sandy Cooper announced last spring that all regional branches would be put on a uniform schedule of 40 hours a week.

It now reflects branch managers' preference for morning hours and children's programming over evenings, as well as a shorter day for staffers on Saturdays.

But Mondays - traditionally one of the busiest days — would remain dark around the county, and only the Central Library in downtown Santa Rosa would be open on Sundays.

The only evening hours would fall on Wednesdays, when most branches would be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The new schedule would take effect July 31.

Many library staffers and patrons have objected to plans for reduced library service, particularly the Monday shutdown.

Union representatives proposed a plan — since rejected — that would allow each branch to adopt schedules to meet the needs of their particular demographics.

On Monday, even as commissioners gather in Santa Rosa, stakeholders in Sebastopol will be holding their own meeting to brainstorm ways to maintain current hours there through private fund-raising - an effort supported by Mayor Guy Wilson and other Sebastopol council members.

"What we're really trying to do now is just try to figure out the feasibility or the level of cooperation that we might be able to get from the county library system," Wilson said. "Assuming that they will work with us, there are a number of people in Sebastopol who have expressed their willingness to go out and fund raise, do what it takes."

Cooper said no one is happy with the idea of slashing library hours, a move intended to help the library close a more than $1 million budget gap.

But as adjusted, the schedule proposed by branch managers and forwarded by Cooper for commission approval comes closer to meeting the different needs of patrons and staffers, she said.

Putting all employees on the same schedule would permit the library to float personnel between branches to cover leaves and vacations, saving an estimated $291,000 a year on substitute librarians, Cooper said.

Managers also wanted to ensure two consecutive days off for employees who continue to make concessions to reduce costs.

Cooper said any effort to single out Sebastopol for different treatment would raise critical policy questions and run counter to provisions in the Joint Powers Agreement under which the county's libraries were consolidated.

It's also not clear if donations could be used to pay salaries, or whether union representatives would permit staff at one branch to enjoy conditions not available elsewhere.

But Wilson and frequent library patron Dena Bliss, who organized Monday's Sebastopol meeting, said other communities would be welcome to replicate whatever solution Sebastopol might develop.

"I understand that there are competing interests, and I don't have a question in the world that there is a budget shortfall," Bliss said. "...But I don't believe that there are no creative ideas that will work, with a county as intelligent and creative as Sonoma, so that the community needs could be met and the budget constraints could also be met."