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July 18, 2012

Library hours, employees cut

Director: ‘I think we’ll see a change in how people utilize the library.’

By Jessica Strachan
C & G Staff Writer

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Library hours, employees cut
Effective Sept. 4, the library will reduce its hours from 66 to 44 a week after a decline in property tax income forced Director Dave Ewick to cut the hours of nearly 100 part-time employees.

SOUTHFIELD — It was a chapter that City Librarian Dave Ewick hoped he would never have to read in life: the library making cuts.

But it’s also a story that was all too familiar for Ewick, the son of two Indianapolis librarians.

“I remember my father coming home and telling me, ‘You know, David, it just really makes me so upset that I’ve got master’s-level professionals working full time that still qualify for food stamps,’” explained Ewick, director of the Southfield Public Library for five years now. “I never thought I’d see it in my own career though.”
 

Sharing the pain

Last week, Ewick, a librarian for nearly 30 years, made the announcement in the wake of declining property tax revenues: Hours would be cut for all part-time personnel in the library, equaling cuts for close to 100 employees, the duties to be shared by the remaining 25 union staff members.

With that came the decision Ewick said he was cornered into after months of scouring the numbers and consulting with the library board. Hours of operation would have to be cut, too.

“It’s been a tough week around here. It’s a blow to everyone,” Ewick said about sharing the changes with his staff and the new library schedule that will take effect Sept. 4.

After reducing programs and expenses in nearly every other area, Ewick said that it was time to resort to actions that would keep the library from potentially closing for good.

“I had to make the choice to lay some people off or reduce everyone. I feel like we need to share the pain with each other and with the public, so I didn’t want to lay anyone off.”

With hours reduced for all part-time personnel and the library hours scaled back from 66 to 44 each week, the Southfield Public Library will be dipping into savings for the next three-five years, keeping the measures in place to secure the long-term future of the library, he said.

“This is what we’ve had to do to survive.”

Ewick added that he and the other full-time employees are bracing themselves for hour reductions in the coming months once the city negotiates their contracts.

“The library board really worked hard on dealing with the financial reality, and the library — like other city services — had to make some adjustments,” said Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence. “It is the best-case scenario. We will still be able to provide our library services, but we in Southfield, we make a concerted effort to be fiscally responsible. We are not going to put our library in jeopardy financially, so we have to make the right decisions. While we wish things could just stay the same, the reality is that our financial situation has changed drastically.”

 

Why the millage increase wasn’t enough

A 4.9183-mill tax increase that was overwhelmingly approved in May 2011 awarded $1.1 million in funds to the Southfield Public Library, which helped to balance the budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year. But with revenues down 30 percent from the peak year of 2008, Ewick said the numbers are back down to where they were two years ago for the just over $7.84 million library budget. They’re dipping into their $4.8 million fund balance to the tune of $708,270 to compensate for a shortfall this year.

Cuts in personnel and operation costs are saving $200,000 a year, plus another $180,000 savings in cuts to supplies, materials, book budgets, contracts with companies and travel expenses.

“We thought we were past the major hurdles in the economic crisis, but it continued longer than anyone in our circle of folks anticipated,” Ewick explained, adding that the library went from a 6 percent decrease in revenues before the millage to a 12 percent decrease after, losing two-thirds of its revenue from property taxes. “The millage drastically lessened the damage, but it’s not enough to offset the losses in property taxes.”

Next year, the library still expects another 8 percent loss.

“There is nothing that any of us could have done. This is all about the economy,” Ewick explained. “Ninety percent of our income is from property tax income.”

Ewick said that when it came to balancing the budget, it wasn’t something the management team took lightly. After all, these measures will be the ones to ensure that one day the library is financially secure enough to reopen at full capacity, and Ewick said he intends to conduct the changes with full transparency.

“We initially tried to hide this from the public, and I’m not sure that was the best route,” he said.

Ewick added that in his five years at the Southfield Public Library, he wasn’t able to hire any full-time staff, foreshadowing the downward spiral. Moving forward, however, he doesn’t expect any layoffs.

The future of the library

The negotiated hours leave the public with both opportunities to have morning time at the library on some days, with evening study time and events on other days. Friday, which typically draws in the fewest patrons, was removed entirely from the schedule.

As for the new café inside the library, Southfield Eatery, which was opened less than a month ago by Southfield native Johnny Cannon and his business partner, Greg Armstrong, no schedule has been configured yet.

The new eight-hour days — as opposed to nearly 12-hour days the library has currently — were decided upon in order to allow librarians to be able to operate the library on single shifts, Ewick explained. Online resources, such as 24-hour Web access to reserve books, use the database and download audio books, will be a large factor in the future of the library.

“I think we’ll see a change in how people utilize the library,” he said.

The library is also offering ways that locals can help out in its time of need, including by contacting local legislators about supporting stable new funding, becoming a supporter of the library so that it is able to continue affording new materials, and donating books. The full list of ideas can be found at southfieldlibrary.org.

Above all, the future of the library will include visions of not just saving it, but growing it for the community, Ewick believes.

“We’ll start the discussion to bring the library back to full capacity as soon as we can,” he said. “We are going to bring it back.”
 

Public comment

In addition to the phone calls and visits to the library since the announcement was made, many locals took to Facebook to express their frustration and lament about the library’s changes. Some praised the staff and efforts to keep the library open as much as possible, while others questioned the cuts in light of the recent millage.

For Ewick, the millage comment comes as no surprise. He said it’s a question he’s gotten several times a day since the announcement from loyal patrons who feel shocked and confused by the changes.

Simply put, the millage increase just wasn’t enough to protect the library from the poor economy, he said.


The Southfield Public Library has announced a cut in its hours, effective after Labor Day, reducing the hours from 66 a week to 44.

Here’s a look at the new schedule:

1-9 p.m. Monday and Wednesday

9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday

Closed on Friday

9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday

1-5 p.m. Sunday (September through May)

 

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jessica Strachan at jstrachan@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1108.