Government

Cedar Rapids Library could restore Saturday hours at Ladd as patrons embrace expanded hours

Gardening books are seen on a shelf at the Ladd Library in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. The library has seen an uptick in the number of patrons during its extended morning hours from 8-9 since they took effect this summer. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Gardening books are seen on a shelf at the Ladd Library in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. The library has seen an uptick in the number of patrons during its extended morning hours from 8-9 since they took effect this summer. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Dennis Johnson, 50, a split-shift worker from Cedar Rapids, is among the Ladd Library users who’ve discovered the westside branch has been opening at 8 a.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays since July 1, an hour earlier than it had been.

Johnson uses the library nearly daily to browse books, read subscription-based publications, and work on his finances on the computer before or after work. He assumes many people haven’t realized the new schedule because after 9 a.m., the library and especially computers fill up, he said.

“I love it,” said Johnson, who was using a computer on Wednesday morning. “It works into my schedule and between 8 and 9 it is nice and quiet. You don’t have to wait in line to get on a computer. I get a lot accomplished.”

He hopes Saturday hours, which were cut in 2016, are restored, too, and he could be in luck.

Three months have passed since experimental morning hours were added at Ladd, 3750 Williams Blvd., and Sunday hours from 1 to 5 p.m. were restored at the downtown branch, 450 Fifth Ave. SE.

With positive early signs, library officials are considering pushing for a budget increase to add more library hours next year, specifically Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Ladd to match downtown hours.

Budget constraints in 2016 prompted the elimination of Saturday hours at Ladd, Sunday hours downtown, and an hour at the end of the day. Voters in 2015 rejected a tax levy increase to support the full spectrum of hours as well as other services and staff.

An unexpected allocation from the City Council earlier this year allowed library officials to expand the hours beginning July 1.

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Library officials are hoping to collect six months of data for a full assessment of the new schedule, but early indications suggest people are taking advantage, said Dara Schmidt, library director.

Ladd had 989 visitors during the first three months of early morning hours, and the downtown branch saw 6,545 visitors on Sundays during that time, according to library data. Circulation numbers show 1,292 items were checked out at Ladd and 15,937 downtown during the new hours since July 1.

Schmidt said she is generally pleased, although would like to see Sundays downtown average 2,500 people per month and is hoping as more people catch on that Ladd sees greater use during the morning hours.

“Downtown is continuing to grow, and there is stuff happening in the park and community events are happening all over the place,” Schmidt said. “We want to be a space people make us part of their weekends with their families.”

Schmidt said none of the actual dollars for a fiscal 2020 budget are final or agreed upon, but they are estimating the same amount reported to council last year, which was around $250,000 to restore the Saturday hours at Ladd.

“We won’t have hard numbers until after we’ve negotiated union contracts, which we’re also expecting in November,” Schmidt said.

It remains up in the air if they would maintain the early morning hours at Ladd next year, Schmidt said.

Trustees would vote to finalize the library budget request in December or January, and the city is required to finalize its budget in March.

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Matt Wilding, president of the library board of trustees, noted the plans could change but said trustees have generally favored bringing back Saturdays at Ladd.

“The Ladd location is doing really well and it really serves the community, and especially the part of the community near Ladd,” Wilding said. “Having Saturdays there, we think it would be heavily used.”

Ashley Vanorny, a City Council member whose district includes Ladd, said she fully supports the city upping the library allocation to support Saturday hours.

“It’s one of the few resources we have that is for all,” Vanorny said. “It allows all citizens to use technology, meeting space and resources. I will continue to work until it is fully funded for all

the hours. The Ladd Library is an incredible resource that will only get better.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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