Hours cut at some Schenectady County library branches

Four branches of the Schenectady County Public Library System will see their hours per week reduced

Four branches of the Schenectady County Public Library System will see their hours per week reduced this year because of county fiscal belt-tightening. Hours at the other six branches will be unchanged.

Library Director Andrew Kulmatiski said he had to reduce his 2008 budget by $90,000, to $5.5 million, compared to his 2007 budget. The county Legislature last year sought across-the-board reductions from all county departments to reduce a tentative 10 percent increase in the property levy. In October, the Legislature adopted a $283.4 million budget with a 5 percent increase in the levy.

“We had a $90,000 reduction in our hourly budget and the loss of one full-time position. As a result, we reduced hours at some of our branches. We looked at their circulation, usage and proximity to the main branch in making our decisions,” Kulmatiski said.

Library officials for 2008 had budgeted 373.5 hours per week for operations at nine branches, and 68 hours per week at the main branch at 99 Clinton St. They ended up reducing total hours by 27, to 346.5 hours. Branches with reduced hours are:

* Hamilton Hill, by four hours. New hours are Monday through Thursday, 2 to 6 p.m.

* Quaker Street, by seven hours. New hours are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, 1 to 6 p.m.; Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

* Scotia, by 10 hours. New hours are Monday through Thursday, noon to 5:30 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

* Woodlawn, by six hours. New hours are Monday through Thursday, 1 to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m.

“The goal is to not reduce hours at the main branch, and the reason is that everyone is using it,” Kulmatiski said. The county also operates large library branches in Glenville, Rotterdam and Niskayuna. The Duane Avenue and Mont Pleasant branches also are not affected.

Esther Swanker, president of the library’s Board of Trustees, said she hopes the reductions are temporary. “My sense is that we have experienced growth in the last few years, and there comes a time when growth stops and when you have to cut back,” she said.

The public is largely unaware of the branch hour reductions, Swanker said. “It is not well-known yet,” she said.

County Legislator Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on Education and Libraries, said reducing hours was a difficult decision. “We tried to ensure all branches would be open some of the time. We did not do anything extreme like closing a branch.”

“In the future we will look at consolidation of some of the city branches, but we do not have anything definitive in mind,” Hughes said. “It was not anyone’s particular desire to look in the direction of closing branches, and reducing hours was the best option.”

Hughes said the library system is an important component of the community’s quality of life, but at the same time, the county this year faces serious fiscal issues.

“It’s going to be a tough year. Certainly, the reality of maintaining all the branches and services is out there. It is one of the few optional programs we have. Our intent is to maintain the system in the configuration it is in,” Hughes said. He said the county library system is already one of the most efficiently operated in the state and further cuts would be difficult. Kulmatiski said this was the first time in a decade the county reduced hours. “This was not fun for me. I hated it,” he said. “We try to provide the best services as cost effectively as we can, but we have to do it with the funds available.”

The reduction of hours affects mostly part-time staff; no one was laid off. The one position eliminated was already vacant, Kulmatiski said.

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