Budget cuts force Houston library to shorten hours

HOUSTON "Like a rapidly growing number of public libraries throughout the state and across the country that are facing significant budget reductions due to the downturn in the economy, Houston Public Library's new service hours will better align the library within the City's current economic environment. While the reduction in service hours will affect all Houston Public Library locations, we want to assure our customers that this change will not have an impact on the Library's core mission to provide a high level of quality service to its customers," said Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson, director of the Houston Public Library. "Keeping the needs of our customers' front of mind, the Houston Public Library will continue its commitment to provide services and programs when our customers need them most. We believe the new operations plan to be proactive, realistic, and focused on continued equitable delivery of quality library services."

The library's current FY10 budget of $37,137,986 reflects a reduction of approximately $2.2 million from the original budget of the fiscal year. Library actions to meet this budget reduction include the following: reduced service hours by moving from 70 hours per week to 51 hours per week when Houstonians can access library services; reduced library materials budget by 6%; and, reduced staff through attrition. The majority of the department's reductions are being met through attrition; the library has 42 fewer full-time employees than it had at the beginning of the fiscal year (July 2009). These positions are expected to remain unfilled under the current budget environment.

The number of people using resources at the Houston Public Library has increased in all areas over the last year. For example, in person visits are up by 13%, borrowing of materials is up 15%, and computer users are up by 5%. During the same period that customer demand for service steadily increased, the library's staff decreased by 9% through attrition.

"Reduction of staff and increased customer usage has significantly impacted the library's ability and capacity to maintain current service levels," said Dr. Lawson.

The new library service hours were determined after a careful examination of Houston Public Library's primary use statistics including the times and days of the week library locations are busiest; book and other material borrowing patterns; and specific kinds of library use such as in person visits and remote access by phone and internet. The library's current staffing levels and operational budget were also considered. The new plan reduces the need for multiple shifts but ensures that library service can be accessed somewhere in Houston seven days a week during the school year.

Highlights of the new schedule:

  • The number of hours open to the public each day will be reduced.
  • Library service will be provided at every neighborhood library Monday through Friday.
  • Library service will be provided at all Regional locations and McGovern-Stella Link Neighborhood Library Monday through Saturday.
  • Regional Libraries and McGovern-Stella Link Neighborhood Library will be closed on Sundays.
  • Central Library will be closed on Fridays and on Sundays beginning the third week of June until the third week of August.
  • Special Collections will be closed on Fridays. Special Collections is comprised of The African American Library at the Gregory School, the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research, and the Houston Metropolitan Research Center (housed in the Julia Ideson Building).
  • The reduction of service hours assists the library in maintaining its commitment to meet peak time customer demand while sustaining its capacity to provide quality information services. Customers will continue to have access to library resources 24/7 through web-based services, which allow them to search the catalog and databases, place selected Library materials on hold, renew items borrowed, obtain homework help from tutors, and ask reference questions through e-mail, chat, and text. Customers can also renew items by telephone, use the self-checkout machines, and access the telephone reference service, available at 832-393-1313 during all hours that the Houston Public Library is open.

    The current Houston Public Library schedule of hours will remain in effect until close of business on Friday, April 16, 2010. The new Houston Public Library schedule of hours goes into effect on Saturday, April 17, 2010.

    For further information, visit the Houston Public Library at www.houstonlibrary.org or call 832-393-1313.

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