San Jose libraries face $1 million budget cut
Students study at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library at San Jose State University. Photo by Mauricio La Plante.

The San Jose Public Library will lose more than $1 million in the upcoming budget year, leading to reduced hours and the elimination of dozens of full and part-time positions.

The move came in response to the city’s request to scale back on expenses due to the budget shortfall dealt by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We developed several scenarios,” San Jose Library Director Jill Bourne said in an email to San José Spotlight. “This one avoided layoffs by reducing vacancies and operating expenses only.”

A total of 79 vacant positions — an equivalency of nearly 28 full-time positions — will be eliminated under the plan, but no current employees will lose their jobs. Bourne said the eliminated positions mean the libraries need to reduce their hours by a proposed cutback of four hours per week at each of the 25 library branches across San Jose

Bourne said many of the vacancies represent part-time positions that see a higher turn over because they are often filled by students.

Bourne said she understands the cuts are necessary, but it doesn’t make them any less devastating — especially when people who are out of work because of the virus rely on the library’s services to help get them back on their feet.

“People are looking for jobs. People need computers.” Bourne said. “To reduce services is tragic to me.”

The library received half a million dollars from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act which could potentially delay the reduction of library hours by a year.

There is also hope that the proposed cuts can be avoided.

“The ongoing position eliminations are still scheduled to go into effect for 2021-2022, but will be reevaluated as part of next year’s budget process,” San Jose Budget Director Jim Shannon said in a statement.“It is hoped that over the course of this year, the Library Department may be able to identify other ongoing cost savings measures through an alternative service delivery model that may be able to preserve the current number of operating hours while reducing the total ongoing cost.”

Due to COVID-19, the library is already operating differently. Officials have amped up digital offerings during shelter-in-place orders and earlier this month opened for express pick up service at a handful of locations.

On Wednesday, Bourne reported that the pick up service was going strong with nearly 16,000 new holds placed. Electronic books, which were already seeing a boost during this time, saw an additional 11 percent increase as well, Bourne added.

Bourne was hired in 2013 during a time when libraries were struggling to recover from the blow dealt by the Great Recession of 2009. During that time, Bourne says five newly-built libraries were closed due to budget cuts and half of them were not open on weekends.

“My job when I got here was to recover from the devastating disaster,” Bourne said.

The city also faced consecutive years of massive budget deficits from 2009 to 2012 that each exceeded $80 million, according to Shannon. As of 2012, libraries in San Jose were only open four days a week and were only brought up to six days per week under Bourne’s leadership in 2016.

“We are at the beginning of what will likely be several years of challenging budget cycles,” Shannon said. “Balancing next year’s budget could be even more difficult than this year.”

Before COVID-19, Bourne said the city’s public library system was looking to increase hours even longer, including opening up some branches on Sundays.

“I think that’s why decreasing is so hard for everyone,” Bourne added. “We’re going to try to find a way to mitigate it as much as we can. How can we make sure our services are available to people in their homes?”

The council’s action Tuesday to expand Wi-Fi access to students is a good first start, Bourne noted.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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