Stanislaus County Library Lays Off 94 Part-Timers

Stanislaus County Library Lays Off 94 Part-Timers

Anticipating drastically reduced revenue from a dedicated sales tax and state aid, Stanislaus County (Calif.) Library officials issued layoff notices May 1 to 94 of the system’s 138 part-time staff, effective June 30, just before the FY 2008–09 budget year begins. “This is a very, very sad thing for us to do,” Stanislaus County Librarian Vanessa Czopek said in the May 2 Modesto Bee. “We hope we don’t have to be in this mode for very long.” Adding that “a lot of us will be pitching in with duties we don’t normally do,” Czopek said she anticipates doing her part by helping to shelve books.

Officials are also eyeing a service-hour reduction in the new fiscal year that, if approved by the county Board of Supervisors, would close the Modesto branch on Sundays—the only library systemwide currently offering Sunday hours—and close other branches an additional two days a week. Many SCL sites now offer five-day-a-week service, and the proposal calls for coordination of hours so that a branch is open Monday–Saturday in each region of the county.

The library system receives 85% of its funding from a dedicated one-eighth-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1995 to stop the cash-strapped county from closing branches altogether. Renewed in 1999 and 2004, the sales tax has enabled libraries to increase hours from 240 per week in 1995 to 579 per week in FY2007–08. The library system’s weekly hours would scale back to 379 in FY2008–09.

The fiscal trouble stems from a projected shortfall of $1 million in sales-tax revenue due to the slowed economy, as well as a drop of $291,000 in state funding that is linked to local contributions. The overall proposed SCL budget for next year is $10.65 million, down from the current-year’s $12.44 million. Still, Friends of the Ceres Library President Paul Caruso asserted to the Bee that officials “have to be sensitive to the will of the people [and] hold on until we weather these things,” noting that “people voted for the sales tax to have some type of reasonable operating hours and to keep the branches open.”

Although library workers were aware that cuts were inevitable, they expressed shock and sadness nonetheless. “I’m sad it’s affecting so many people,” laid-off children’s librarian Debbie Johnson remarked, adding, “I hope the public understands that we are trying to do the best we can.” Head of Children’s Services Sharon Arpoika revealed that she feels guilty to still have a job. “I feel sad for the community,” she said. “In dire times, people don’t have money to go do things, and a library is a place people can come that doesn’t cost a lot of money.”

Posted on May 2, 2008. Discuss.