Chesterfield libraries make cuts, could reduce hours

By Matt Butner - bio | email

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) -  Chesterfield County's library system has seen its funding decrease by 17 percent for the upcoming year.  Among the proposed cost-saving measures is the possibility of closing branches one extra day per week.

That idea doesn't sit well with Brian Lawrence.  He goes to the library once or twice a week with his wife and seven children.

"A kid's last minute book report got to be done, and you can't get some information -- you know kids always wait until the last minute to do stuff," he said of the library's role as a valuable resource for students.

But Chesterfield's libraries are weighing the option.  They've been instructed to cut $1.5 million from an $8.5 million budget.

"We'll probably have to trim anywhere from 10 to 12 hours in any week.  We're currently open 59 hours a week, we'll probably have to drop down to 48 hours a week," said Mike Mabe, the county's director of library services.

The depth of the cut means that some library staff will likely lose their jobs.  Mabe says employees will be told more about their futures beginning next week.

Besides staff, the other big expenditure for libraries is materials, including the books on the shelves.  Chesterfield has already spent less in that area this year than last, and it's about to get worse, with a large pool of patrons vying for the same books.

"We have a couple million visitors a year that come through all nine branch libraries combined," said Mabe, "and they're all searching and seeking for the same types of services and resources."

Many Chesterfield residents, including the group Friends of the Chesterfield County Public Library, are concerned about the cuts' impact on the larger community.  Many people use the libraries' computers as their sole means of accessing the internet.

Mabe says they've seen an increase in unemployed customers using their computers to find jobs.  In addition, about 350 different community groups use the library as a meeting place, and could be forced to make schedule changes if the libraries cut hours or days.

Mabe says the bottom line for the libraries is to try to keep 238,000 library cardholders happy amid the specter of less money, less time, and fewer staff.

"We will certainly try to provide the maximum amount of service time available to the customer, whether it's over six days or five days," he said.

Whatever changes are decided upon will take effect at the start of the new budget year, on July 1.

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