Libraries reinstate Saturday hours

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Barry-Lawrence system pauses pursuit of tax levy ballot issue

Library patrons in Cassville will be happy to know that the doors to their public library, and all the services it offers, are now back open on Saturdays.

That means access to the internet, a copy machine, a chance to check out books, rent movies, and the option for parents and grandparents to return to taking children on fun, leisurely trips to the library are all back on Saturday to-do lists for many Barry County residents.

As a result of a recent action by the Barry-Lawrence County Library System Board, the decision was made to reopen the system’s four main library branches on Saturdays, including Cassville, Monett, Aurora and Mount Vernon.

“As we said all along when we looked at what we were going to bring in in taxes, we would take a look at our funding situation,” said Gina Milburn, library branch director. “When the board met in January, we knew we had enough of the money coming in to make a decision about extending some of our hours. The board decided we could open at least the big branches on Saturdays, and we could keep the hours consistent.”

As of Feb. 4, hours at the four main branches are now Monday through Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Hours at the smaller branches will remain the same.

“We’re not at a point where we can extend the hours at smaller branches or extend evening hours, but could reopen on Saturdays,” Milburn said.

The decision to reopen only the four main branches was due to use by patrons, and it seemed to be the most practical, Milburn said.

“The smaller branches have people coming into the bigger communities to do their shopping and errands on Saturdays,” she said. “For instance, in Pierce City, people are already driving into Monett, and Miller into Mt. Vernon. Some of the smaller locations are not happy [they were not reopened on Saturday], but, quite honestly, the smaller branches were only ever open half a day on Saturday, and in those four hours, some only had one or two customers an hour. And, there were several that had been [completely] closed on Saturdays for some time and we had readjusted the hours during the week to accommodate. You hate to pay a staff person to sit for four hours for three or four customers.”

Milburn said while it’s still early to gauge the community’s response to reopening the main library centers on Saturdays, due to public outcry when the centers closed, she definitely believes it will be positive.

“It’s too early to tell, but I get the feeling everyone will be happy,” she said. “It will take time for people to realize the library is open [again] on Saturday. We’ll continue and see how things go.”

“I’m really glad,” said Cheryl Williams, Cassville Branch Library supervisor, in response to the change.

Last fall, Williams said in response to the closures that Saturdays were the only days many could make it to the library to access the internet to job search, do homework, make copies and take care of other business.

“I was upset when the library closed on Saturdays before,” she said. “We’re all happy about the change here.”

Williams said the Cassville branch was really busy the first Saturday it reopened, and a little slower the next due to people getting outdoors to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather.

The schedule adjustment should not change any of the educational and recreational programming offered during the week, Williams said, and some may be added.

“We have had some discussions about adding some community programming on Saturday afternoons, and community outreach will continue,” she said.

One new program is a sewing group, which will meet Wednesdays at 1 p.m.

As for pursuing a ballot measure in April, the library system has decided to press pause for a few months to ensure they are fully prepared this time around.

“We can’t do it in April because we missed the deadline,” Milburn said. “So, we’re looking at putting it on the August ballot. We wanted to have enough time to do it right and take time to meet with a committee that can campaign for us and get the word out better because that’s what we heard from our customers [the most in surveys] is that ‘Nobody told us to vote yes’ on the last ballot. So we need to have more publicity. I think when there is a ballot measure, people tend to think there needs to be a sign in the yard that says, ‘Vote yes,’ and because we have a lot of loyal customers, we thought it would go through.”

The library system just wrapped up a survey to collect community input, and while they would have liked to see more patrons respond, they feel it was effective.

“I would’ve liked to have more responses,” Milburn said. “We had 318 respond across the branches, and we have 50,000 library cards, but it was a long survey. Most came from Monett, then Aurora and most of those had library cards.”

The surveys were not mailed out due to the expense, but were distributed to the branches and local businesses.

“We did not want to incur a cost to mail them because that seems counterproductive when we’re looking at closing branches,” Milburn said. “We [reported to the board on] Feb. 16, and we’re going to have community meetings in each community where we will ask the public for their verbal input, such as ‘Do they think we’ll be successful with the ballot measure?’ And, ‘Where do you think we need to use funding?’ We’re really trying to make sure we’re getting all our ducks in a row on the front end and not on the back end [this time].”

Milburn affirmed that the library’s focus is to be good stewards with the funding they receive.

“Everything we do goes back to the customers and community,” she said. “We buy local and have 40-some employees whose salaries we pay, and that money goes back into the community, so the library is a good investment because the public reaps the benefits in more ways than just library service.”

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