Washington, DC, Councilman Jack Evans has introduced a plan to extend the city’s library hours. The bill, known as B19-883, The District Of Columbia Public Library Hours Expansion Act of 2012, was introduced on July 10 and referred to committee, but won’t be addressed further until the council members return from their two-month recess. It was co-sponsored by all but two members of the council.
According to the Washington Examiner, most DC library branches currently open 48 hours each week, Evans’ plan would increase that by 44 percent, to at least 69 hours—12 hours a day Monday through Thursday, at least eight on Fridays and Saturdays, and at least five hours on Sunday afternoons. (Right now only the central library is open on Sundays.)
Ginnie Cooper, the District’s chief librarian, is all for it. And, she told LJ, Evans’ proposal would not be completely uncharted territory for DC: other branches used to be open on Sundays. As LJ reported, the funding was cut in fiscal year 2010 (which began in October 2009). “When we used to be open Sunday afternoons, staff would report they saw people they’d never seen before. It wasn’t an incredibly busy time, but it did make library use possible” for people who could not come at any other, Cooper said.
This year’s budget had included further cuts which would have closed the central library on Sunday as well, but “the mayor heard so much about that that he made a last minute change to keep it open,” Cooper said. (The move came just 48 hours before what would have been the first Sunday closure, according to the Washington Post.)
Andrew Huff, Evans’ director of communications, told LJ, that Evans had “heard from residents and civic groups repeatedly about the need to extend library hours.” Cooper concurred. “We hear regularly they would like their libraries to be open many more hours than we can afford to be open. But we are lucky that we still provide six day service, although the days are short.” Right now some branches stay open until 9 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, others on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Said Huff, “our rough estimate is that this would cost between $10-$12 million annually. A Fiscal Impact Statement has yet to be produced.” According to Huff, the bill must first be moved by the Committee on Libraries, Parks, Recreation, and Planning, which is planning a public hearing on the bill on October 25. The committee would also produce the impact statement.
If the proposal were to be moved subject to appropriations, implementation would likely be bumped to the next budget cycle. (Mayor Vincent C. Gray is due to present his next budget proposal in March 2013). However, said Huff, it could be funded sooner through revised revenue estimates or a supplemental budget—the restoration of the central branch’s Sundays was accomplished via revised revenue estimates, according to Cooper—or funds could be reprogrammed via the mayor’s office.
The latter, however, does not seem likely. Mayoral spokesperson Pedro Ribeiro told LJ that “I think everybody wants extended library hours. I don’t think anybody thinks it’s a bad idea. We think it’s a phenomenal idea, but it’s a question of the appropriate timing. It’s got to happen in the context of the whole city budget. They should have [raised the issue] in June and in May when the  budget was before the Council.”
Of course, despite thinking it is “phenomenal,” now, the mayor did not ask for extended library hours in the 2013 budget either – but he did increase the library budget by 20 percent, mostly to cover new branches, staff for those branches, and increased collection development. “We made a proposal that we thought increased access to libraries,” said Ribeiro. “That’s one of those tradeoffs, do we increase hours or increase the collection? We came out on one end, and if they had wanted to come out on another, they had the opportunity.”
With so many sponsors and co-sponsors, the mayor’s opinion is all but irrelevant: even if he vetoes the legislation, it has the two-thirds “supermajority” required to override the veto. However Cooper felt a veto would be unlikely. “This is an easy resolution to be for, because it costs you nothing,” she said. The real question will come when we see what the proposed budget for 2014 is.”
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