Education

Placer County libraries to cut hours amid budget problems

The Rocklin Library will shut down on Mondays starting Jan. 26 as Placer County deals with budget problems. The Auburn branch will also be closed on Mondays, and the Loomis branch will have its schedule reduced by eight hours a week.
The Rocklin Library will shut down on Mondays starting Jan. 26 as Placer County deals with budget problems. The Auburn branch will also be closed on Mondays, and the Loomis branch will have its schedule reduced by eight hours a week. Sacramento Bee file

Placer County will shutter one rural library and reduce hours at several popular branches as officials blame fiscal problems dating to the Great Recession.

Starting Jan. 26, Auburn and Rocklin, the only branches currently open six days a week, will be closed on Mondays. The Loomis branch will see a reduction of eight hours a week, but library officials have yet to determine how to spread those cuts through the schedule.

The service cutbacks are being characterized as temporary, but Mary George, library services director for Placer County, did not have a timeline for when hours would be restored.

“We are at risk of not being able to open our branches,” she said. “We’re stretched so thin with our staff.”

The library’s budget has remained stagnant after property taxes – the primary funding vehicle for the system – took a hit during the recession. The budget for 2014-15 is projected at $6 million, slightly less than $6.1 million in 2008-09.

Additionally, she is recommending the Board of Supervisors close the Meadow Vista branch later this year. She cited maintenance problems as the reason for shuttering the site. With the closure, the county will save $34,000 in rent payments annually, which will be redirected to other branches.

Libraries in Lincoln and Roseville are not affected by the cuts because the cities run their own branches. The county system serves more than half a million patrons.

Describing the cost-cutting moves as a “broad restructuring,” George said the library should have made more cuts during the recession.

“When the Great Recession hit California, many public libraries took their hits. That’s when they shut down the branches and reduced hours,” she said. “We stayed open because our patrons needed it.”

But, she added, “That’s taken its toll.”

The library in recent years had developed a strong reliance on temporary workers to staff its branches. The workers, mostly retired people, earned close to minimum wage and no benefits. But new federal health care mandates require employers to provide insurance to those working more than 28 hours a week.

“If they go over 28 hours a week, that will put Placer County at risk for fines,” George said.

Several temporary hires have crossed that threshold already. More than 50 percent of library employees are classified as temporary workers, according to a county staff report.

The service cuts will affect both the young and old since the Auburn and Rocklin branches are among the highest trafficked. Karen Morgan, 71, frequents the Rocklin branch to read the newspaper and catch up on email. She doesn’t have a computer at home.

“This is going to cut me off from the Internet and information,” she said, while sitting down to read a copy of The Sacramento Bee on Wednesday.

Jenna Zmrzel, 17, of Newcastle, won’t have a study spot on Mondays. The Del Oro High School student swings by the Rocklin branch in between her classes and crew team practice in Sacramento. “It’s on the way to Sacramento,” she said. “There’s no time to go home.”

The Placer County library system already has seen a significant hit to its materials budget, slashed by almost 50 percent since 2008 to $260,000 this year. Building maintenance has been deferred, and officials have struggled to buy modern technologies that patrons have come to expect. For instance, only the Auburn, Granite Bay and Rocklin branches have self-service kiosks for checking out materials.

“They want lots and lots of computers,” George said. “We’re definitely behind the eight ball in reaching out for modern technology.”

Supervisor Jim Holmes, who represents Loomis and Rocklin, said he was disappointed with the county’s plans.

“It’s just a different animal than when I was a kid,” said Holmes, 67. “We need to take a hard look at how our library services are performed. There’s so much now in the form of e-books and computers.”

Call The Bee’s Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

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