Libraries' Doors Shut for Winter Sundays; Too Many Workers Taking Holiday Leave

Article excerpt

Byline: Gary Emerling, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

D.C. Public Library officials are temporarily closing more than half of the system's branches on Sundays because of a staffing shortage caused by employees taking their holiday and vacation leave.

"It's sort of a step backwards," said Robin Diener, director of the D.C. Library Renaissance Project. "If there's an issue with staffing, then the library needs to come to grips with that issue."

All but 12 of the system's 27 libraries have been closed on Sundays as of Nov. 11. The closures are expected to last until the end of January.

Officials say the closures are due largely to staff members' choosing to take their vacations over the holidays and to a large number of staffers expected to retire at year's end.

Library workers - many of whom belong to a union and must volunteer to work overtime on Sundays - lose their leave if they do not use it before the end of the year.

"Like other agencies, DCPL has staff with holiday leave plans and 'use or lose' leave," library spokeswoman Kandace Foreman said. "Unlike most agencies, DCPL is open to serve the public on Saturdays and Sundays."

The D.C. library system had a budget of $43 million for fiscal 2007, compared with $34.5 million in fiscal 2006.

Miss Foreman said the system has employed roughly 500 staff members in the past two years, and officials have attempted to give advance warning that certain branches will be closed.

In the past, customers were notified that a branch would not be open by a handwritten note on the door.

"Because of our proactive planning, customers will find our libraries open when we say they will be," Miss Foreman said.

Ms. Diener said staying open on Sundays has been a highlight of Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper's tenure, which began last year afterMayor Anthony A. Williams lured her away from running the library system in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Former D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, who served as chairwoman of the council committee with oversight of the city's libraries, secured funding last year to keep libraries open on Sundays, and the extra hours began in October 2006 under Ms. Cooper's watch.

Records show that attendance at branches jumped nearly 20 percent in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 compared with in the previous year, a spike that corresponds to the introduction of Sunday hours. …