Government

Cedar Rapids libraries restoring some hours

Council voted extra $100,000 to help downtown and Ladd locations

Aerial view of the Cedar Rapids Public Library in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Aerial view of the Cedar Rapids Public Library in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Flush for now with an unexpected and unrequested funding boost, trustees for the Cedar Rapids Public Library voted Thursday to expand hours to include Sundays at the downtown location and early morning hours at the westside Ladd Library.

The decision, which takes effect July 1, doesn’t bring back all of what was lost two years ago when hours and staff were cut after voters rejected a levy increase that would have stabilized the budget. But it’s a start, said Library Director Dara Schmidt.

“It doesn’t solve everything, but it is the start of a bigger conversation about how the library board, the City Council and the community can have the access they want,” Schmidt said.

“We are really excited downtown can be a community anchor again. There is so much life and activity that happens on the weekend, and it breaks my heart to see library not open so people can grab a book or a coffee.”

- Dara Schmidt, Cedar Rapids Public Library director

During a budget discussion in February, Cedar Rapids City Council members asked what it would take to return both libraries to seven-day a week schedules. The followed up by carving out an extra $100,000 in the city budget, which was approved in March.

In spring 2016, after voters defeated an extra tax for library operations, the trustees cut Sundays from the downtown location, 450 Fifth Ave SE, and Saturdays from Ladd. 3750 Williams Blvd. SW, and started closing both locations an hour earlier on Mondays through Thursdays.

Under the new plan, the extra money will be divided with $25,230 going for a new part-time patron services specialist to expand hours at Ladd from 8 to 9 a.m. Mondays to Thursdays. The remaining $74,770 will be devoted to overtime pay for four hours of additional service downtown from 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays.

“We are really excited downtown can be a community anchor again,” Schmidt said. “There is so much life and activity that happens on the weekend, and it breaks my heart to see library not open so people can grab a book or a coffee.”

Under the library workers’ union contract, employees are paid bonus pay — time and half — on Sundays.

Because Ladd is lightly staffed to begin with, adding Saturday hours back there proved unfeasible even with the extra money because trustees would need to hire several more staff members.

Schmidt had previously estimated it would cost $75,000 to reopen on Sundays downtown, $250,000 to reopen on Saturdays at Ladd, and $350,000 in total to restore all of the lost hours.

She called the decisions data-driven, noting patronage numbers at Ladd show strong demand during the first hour of the day. The westside is fast changing and growing, so Schmidt said she is interested to test the early hours.

“It’s an experiment and one that could change in the next budget cycle for fiscal 2020,” she said.

“The Ladd hours are a bit more of a gamble,” Schmidt said. “We are taking a little bit of a risk to see if we can get high impact with the dollars we got.”

Harriet Kalinsky, president of the library board, praised the City Council for its commitment to the library, and said she believes members are making a wise investment that is equitable between the two branches, although not the same.

“The thing people need to know most is the hours are trial hours for a year to see if that is fulfilling a need,” she said,

If more money comes in, the board hopes to add Saturday hours at Ladd, she said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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