The Schenectady County Public Library system will expand hours at branches, offer child and adult programming elsewhere and provide off-site Internet access to compensate for the loss of services when the main branch closes for a $7.7 million overhaul this summer, officials said.
Library Director Andy Kulmatiski said he is working with “the county and everyone at how to best serve our patrons.”
Tentative plans call for expanding hours at all nine branches, including restoring hours cut this year at three city branches and the Scotia branch, Kulmatiski said. The system’s three largest branches — Glenville, Rotterdam and Niskayuna — will see hours added on Sunday, a first. Currently only the main branch at 99 Clinton St. has Sunday hours.
“The big hit is going to be the city. We will expand morning hours and additional hours in the evening,” Kulmatiski said.
Most of the 68 full- and part-time staff at the main branch will move to the other branches, to cover the extra hours and increased demand. Four staff will remain to answer loan requests for materials; no employees will lose their job, Kulmatiski said.
“More than half our circulation is at the central library. Patrons will be able to access resources through it by reserving books,” Kulmatiski said.
Library staff is searching for sites downtown to play host to adult and childrens events and to set up computers. Additional computers will be installed at each of the branches as well, which will also see increases in programming.
“Eleven percent of our circulation comes from people who live near the library and walk to it for services. We are trying to find out how best to serve them,” Kulmatiski said. “We have formed a committee to look at branch services and staff from the outlying branches are happy with the increase in services.”
County Legislator Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, chairman of the Legislature’s Education and Library Committee, said the increased hours and services are in effect only until the main branch is back in service.
“We want to provide a continuity of services. We will rely heavily on the branches. We have a good set of branch libraries and we will make very good use of them,” he said. “Our goal is to have a state-of-the-art library to serve the community for many years to come.”
Esther Swanker, president of the library’s board of trustees, said closing the main branch is the best option for completing the project on time, within budget and safely. “You have to remember it is a 40-year-old building and there may be asbestos and we are ripping out the parking lot,” she said. “There are issues of safety.”
The library board voted to close the main branch at its April 24 meeting after reviewing several options, Swanker said. The board oversees library operations. The county funds the system and the Legislature has representatives on the library board.
The library board will meet at 7 p.m. May 22 at the Niskayuna branch to review bids on the project.
Swanker said the board “absolutely wants to get this done. We will have a better facility when we are done.”
The work involves replacing boilers, chillers and other major systems that are original to the building, which represents 75 percent of the project. The remainder involves adding 9,000 square feet to the first floor. The design contains double the space for the children’s room, a small cafe, a performance center and a private reading room. The addition also retains the building’s architectural look through the use of brick and pre-cast and poured concrete.
County Legislator Robert Farley, R-Glenville, is not happy with the proposal to close the Clinton Street branch for up to 18 months. He introduced legislation Thursday for the county Legislature to consider at its committee meeting Monday night.
“It is not a good idea. It is one of the good things we do for the community and it will have an adverse effect downtown. It will adversely affect merchants,” said Farley, the Legislature’s minority leader.
His proposal directs County Manager Kathleen Rooney to keep the library open while work is performed on the structure. “The work can be done with it open,” Farley said.
“We have been discussing this for 10 years. How come there hasn’t been a public venting of it? The first time was in a library trustee meeting. The county Legislature never discussed it,” Farley said.
He said the main branch “serves children, it serves the poor. It is the place which is the ultimate in public service. We can’t close it for a year to put in an air conditioner.”
Hughes said Farley is “operating without complete information.”
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