Reduced library hours would be unfortunate choice

Mar. 03, 2013 @ 06:08 PM

Voters supported $16.2 million in bonds to build Chapel Hill's new expanded library. And now some of them might not get to conveniently use it.

The 63,000 square foot library off Estes Drive is supposed to open in April, but patrons are now faced with the prospect of reduced hours to save $433,000 in personnel and facility costs.

Big shiny new library plus heightened expenses plus belt-tightening time for governments equals frustration for many. Nearly 500 people already have signed an online petition against the Town Council’s cutting the library's operating hours from 68 to 54. The suggestion for this change came from Town Manager Roger Stancil.

"This does not strike me as good policy and I urge you not to do that," wrote JoAnn McJunkin in an email to the council. "Why make it more difficult to access this improved service? This is not the time to cut back on availability."

We tend to agree. The Chapel Hill library in its soon-to-close current iteration at University Mall is among the busiest in the state. It's a bad idea to have windows of operation that work against people with day jobs or students who might need the library on weekends.

The Chapel Hill Herald's Gregory Childress reported last week that Martha Brunstein, president of the board of directors of the Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation, told the council that the new costs that come with doubling the size of the library weren't a surprise.

"We want the library to be fully funded when it opens," she said.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt isn't a fan of the proposed change, either: "I'm not excited about the schedule proposed to us." He asked Stancil to look for another option.

Surprise or not, the town manager's concerns about the budget aren't unfounded, either. The town already faces an $880,000 budget gap and it remains to be seen whether the town can carry forward the amount needed to pay new library workers next fiscal year.

Something may have to give. We hope Stancil finds a more appealing option.