Library use up, but revenue reductions on horizon
Lugging around an armful of children’s books and DVDs, Jolene Osorio couldn’t help but be impressed by her first visit to the Mesa County central library.
A play area for kids whose attention span may not last the duration of the afternoon puppet show. A children’s section brimming with books they can see at eye level. The ability to check out as many as 40 items at one time — more than twice as many as the library in Osorio’s hometown of Florence, S.C. And she hadn’t even gotten to the adult section.
“We always have to come get a pile of books and movies, and when we’re done with these, we come get a new pile of books and movies,” said Osorio, who was accompanied by grandsons Diego and Ethan on a weekday afternoon, when the parking lot at Fifth Street and Grand Avenue was nearly full.
The Mesa County Public Library District continues to flourish, with the central library and seven branches posting nearly across-the-board increases for another round of records in 2010 in use of services. The library circulated nearly 1.3 million items last year, a 12 percent boost over 2009. Librarians issued cards to more than 12,000 new members, more than 60 percent more than the number of new members who joined the library in 2006.
To be sure, the library has benefited from a sluggish economy that has pushed people toward more inexpensive forms of entertainment and encouraged them to borrowrather than rent or buy media.
Managers also have taken definitive steps to broaden the library’s appeal. They have adapted to new technology, letting people load up their MP3 players and eReaders with a variety of tunes and titles. They launched a fresh marketing campaign last year to target two groups: young adults who don’t have children, and new retirees. They’ve diversified the library’s slate of programs, permitting patrons, for example, to exercise their bodies and minds alike through a Zumba class and a Scrabble club.
“I think we’re just being more mindful of what we’re doing,” Library Director Eve Tallman said. “We’re experimenting with new topics and populations.”
Challenges loom on the horizon, however.
A decline in county property values is expected to result in a more than $1 million hit to the library’s budget in 2012, and further annual cuts could follow.
In addition, library administrators and members of the board of trustees are grappling with whether they should continue to invest in branches or save up for the big splash of tearing down and replacing the 60-year-old central library. Talks of collaborating with other public agencies and private developers about rebuilding several blocks surrounding the library have thus far translated into little or no action, and such a complex project could take several years to come to fruition.
REACHING NEW DEMOGRAPHICS
Those closest to the library always have known it to be much more than a book warehouse, but it wasn’t until last year that stakeholders undertook a comprehensive campaign to portray it as an important community place and program it as such.
The classes the library now offers are as varied as its users: watercolor and pottery, healthy cooking and medicinal herbs, energy efficiency and recycling, fly fishing and local winemaking. The library started a Scrabble club and, for the first time, offered Zumba and yoga classes.
“The focus is on lifelong learning,” librarian Betsey Dick said. “We want to get people in to experience the library as a sense of place and trying to meet people with similar interests.”
Many of the programs revolve around local organizations and small businesses, giving directors and proprietors a chance at a longer-term connection with patrons.
After implementing those changes in 2010, officials began 2011 with two significant upgrades: the opening of a new $1.9 million branch in Fruita and the Feb. 2 launch of Prospector, a new catalog that pushes the number of book, music, DVD and other titles available from 3 million to 30 million.
Tallman said patrons already are taking advantage of Prospector, noting there were 100 items in the first delivery to the library.
The library intends to form more partnerships with community groups — like the one with School District 51, in which the library provides the database students can use to access magazines and research articles — to avoid service duplication. It will launch an after-school homework-help program for middle-schoolers at four branches.
She said administrators also plan to closely study the times of day people are at the library and what they do when they are there. They also want to learn more about where users live and what kinds of programs and services they would like to see offered.
PREPARING FOR CUTS
That study is intended to continue to meet the demands of users and to find efficiencies within what’s expected to become a leaner budget.
The library district’s revenue will slide by an estimated $500,000 this year, mostly due to a decline in property values. The big drop, though, will come next year, when administrators are bracing for as much as a 20 percent cut to the $6.7 million in property tax revenue the library expects to take in 2011. That revenue source accounts for 89 percent of the library’s budget.
Initial five-year projections slice another 2 or so percent out each year beyond 2012.
The library managed to gradually build up its fund balance in recent years, meaning the library is in a position to absorb much of the pending revenue cut, Tallman said. Still, she said, administrators need to ensure the library’s staffing levels and hours are appropriate and will look to streamline those areas without affecting services.
Staff salaries and benefits eat up nearly half of the library’s $7.5 million budget this year.
“The biggest part of the library’s budget is going to feel the squeeze,” Tallman said. “We really have to look at that line item.”
Library officials must also decide what, if anything, they should do with the $1.3 million budgeted for capital construction this year and the $5.2 million sitting in the library’s fund balance. Tallman has pushed for the creation of a new branch near Mesa Mall to serve the Redlands and Appleton, but the library’s board of trustees seems to be leaning toward hanging onto funds and investing them in a new central library at some point in the future.
“It isn’t that we have said no to anything. It may be that we’re going to say yes to one or two things. But we really have to be careful and fiscally conservative, as the library always has been and always will be,” board President Linda Davidson said.