Library Board increases hours at all five branches

By James Saxton
Times Correspondent

The Henry County Library Board voted Monday to use a $500,000 temporary budget increase, given by county commissioners last month, to begin opening its branches more hours and give staff members a modest raise.

All five branches will now be open eight hours daily Monday through Friday, beginning Monday, Oct. 31. Stockbridge will continue to be open 1-5 p.m. on Saturdays and McDonough will continue to be open 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

All five branches will be open on the same Monday through Thursday schedule as before: noon to 8 p.m. on Monday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the addition of Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“We’re excited, we’re very excited,” said Henry County Library System Director Carolyn Fuller. “Our goal is to run an ‘open’ library. To have to be closed is just heart-breaking, so now we’ll have library service every day of the week somewhere in our county, which is wonderful.”

“We’re going to be able to serve more people with the Friday hours,” Fuller said. “Some people want library materials, like movies, for the weekend and want to be able to come in and get them while the weekend is on their minds. And students who want to get ahead on a weekend assignment or on the following week may use the library on Friday, while many wait until Sunday to get their assignments done.”

As Stockbridge is now open four hours on Saturdays, as paid for through the end of the year by the City of Stockbridge, the additional county budget funds will provide continuance of the Stockbridge branch remaining open on Saturdays from January through the end of the fiscal year in July.

The McDonough branch has been open four hours on Sundays for years, and that will continue, so patrons will have at least one branch open each of the weekend days, Fuller said. “We’re getting more and more people coming in to the Stockbridge branch as people learn that it is now open on Saturdays.”

Hourly staff members will get a raise of 15 cents per hour, retroactive to July 1. Four key library administrative positions will also get modest salary increases. “We could give no raises and save about $4,000 for the operating budget,” Fuller said to the board, “but I think the fact that these folks have stuck with us and continue to do outstanding work merits at least some raise. From a morale standpoint it is important.”

Members of the Henry County Board of Commissioners agreed on Sept. 19 to a $500,000 budgetary increase for fiscal year 2016, which began July 1, to help the county’s five libraries increase their hours, eliminate weekly staff furloughs, and avoid a crippling loss of state funding.

All five commissioners met last month with the County Library System Board to discuss its request to restore the library’s budget to funding levels from 2010, when libraries operated 58 hours a week instead of the current 32 hours a week (or 36 in McDonough).

All five commissioners voted for the compromise-level in-crease after listening to a presentation from Fuller that requested that the libraries’ current $1.75 million annual budget be increased to $2.9 million.

Fuller said the goal for the full funding increase request was to restore all five libraries to 58 hours per week – including Friday and Saturday hours and four Sunday hours in McDonough – plus bring the number of library employees back to 80, as it had been in 2010, and restore employee benefits and raise pay to current standards.

But County Commission Chairman Tommy Smith proposed that the Board instead offer the Library Board $500,000 in additional funds, a little less than half the requested $1.15 million increase, to help the libraries eliminate staff furloughs and increase hours through nine more months of the current fiscal year.

If the library system had been able to restore its branches to 58 hours a week, and have more consistent hours daily rather than being open some days 10-6 and others 12-8, Locust Grove resident Jennifer Williams said she’d be better able to use her local branch.

“I’m happy to hear that they’re adding Friday hours, but you know, it just seems like every time I drive over to the library it’s closed,” Williams said. “I get confused about what days they’re open until 8 p.m., and which days they open before noon.”

Williams, a single mother, said that with the economy heating up, “the funds should be there” to open the libraries more hours. “Libraries in every other county are open like at 9 a.m., and don’t close until like 8 or 9 p.m. It just feels like our libraries are not valued by our leaders the way other counties value theirs, and I’ve got to say, that frustrates me. I have three kids in school and I work full time and it seems like every time one has an assignment and gets around to telling me it’s due tomorrow, well, we’re out of luck because our library is closed.”

Before the $500,000 budget infusion, the Henry County Library System was furloughing its staff 52 days per year – one full day per week – and was open only 32-36 hours per week, which is below the state minimum requirement of 40 hours per week, Fuller said.

With the funds, the library system will on Oct. 31 be able to end the furloughs and meet the state standard of 40 hours per week at the Fairview, Locust Grove and Hampton branches, and 44 hours per week at the Stockbridge and McDonough branches.