Philadelphia Cuts Staff, Hours

Article excerpt

The Free Library of Philadelphia rolled out a new cost-cutting plan January 24, shifting four branches to afternoon-only hours; by April, the library plans to turn 20 of its branches into express branches open four hours a day, six days a week, and without a librarian on staff. In addition, 13 librarians and four library administrators were among 200 city employees sent layoff notices January 10.

Officials say the changes will allow all 55 city libraries to offer Saturday hours--which only 10 branches did in 2004--and to be open consistently during peak-use times. "What we are trying to do is target when the libraries are used the most," said Dan Fee, Mayor John F. Street's spokesman, in the January 15 Philadelphia Inquirer.

Library Director Elliot Shelkrot told American Libraries that state and city funding cuts contributed to a loss of more than 110 of its 760 staff through attrition since FY 2001, and that by July, the library will have only 630 employees. "With 20% fewer staff, we cannot pretend to be running the same kind of service," he said. During a six-month period last year, he noted, there were more than 150 instances when branches had to close unexpectedly because of staff absences, and he believes the new plan will help address the problem of unpredictable hours.

Cathy Scott, president of AFSCME Local 2187, told AL that the union had repeatedly expressed concerns about the ongoing reduction of staff and had offered to work with the library to address the problem. She said librarians were "blindsided" by the announcement of layoffs and new hours.

Critics worry about the effects of eliminating professional librarian positions and creating what they call "McBranches." Scott said, "It's akin to having a school without a teacher or a health clinic without a nurse or doctor. …

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