DECATUR - Recently laid-off employees of the Decatur Public Library are accusing management of saddling its remaining personnel with overly burdensome workloads that are decreasing the quality of service.
City Librarian Lee Ann Fisher said her staff is still adjusting to the moves that have been necessary in a time when the library's budget has been cut drastically, even as the number of visitors and items circulated has increased.
"We're still adjusting," Fisher said. "In addition to the layoffs, 13 people were downgraded and are now doing different positions from what they were."
When the Decatur City Council crafted its property tax levy late last year, it cut $390,000 from the library in an effort to keep the tax flat. In addition, the state owes the library $100,000 it has not paid. In response, the library laid off eight employees, discontinued the bookmobile program and eliminated the book drops throughout the community. In addition, new materials purchased by the library are being paid out of a trust fund.
Several of the laid-off employees and their union leaders met with the Herald & Review to speak about their former positions and what has occurred since the library began its latest fiscal year earlier this month.
Chief among the concerns expressed by the employees was a union plan to lower operational costs without resorting to layoffs, which the library board ultimately rejected.
Fisher said the library board made the decision it felt it had to in light of the financial situation the library faced.
"The board seriously considered their proposal, and the numbers didn't come close to meeting what we needed to have," Fisher said. "I feel like sometimes my staff doesn't realize the reality of the world today. The money's not there."
Monica Skelley worked at the library, handling interlibrary loans. She said her full-time job, which entailed tracking and processing items the library loaned to or borrowed from other libraries, has since been taken up by management staff, who have been expected to devote only two hours a day to it.
Fisher said attempts are being made to computerize that process.
Ken Banning was one of the bookmobile workers laid off as part of eliminating the service. According to library records, the bookmobiles put nearly 60,000 library materials in the hands of patrons between May 2009 and April 2010.
Banning agreed with other former employees that cutting the service has taken a valuable resource away from those who need it most.
"A lot of people (who used the bookmobiles) can't afford the gas to come into town from around the city," he said.
Fisher said it was unlikely the library would ever run two bookmobiles again, but if times improve, the program could return.
"If the budget comes back to where we need to be, we may be able to run our handicap accessible bookmobile. I don't see us going back to the school districts, but we could serve other parts of the community," Fisher said. "It's all a funding issue."
Cynthia Doran was a library page who worked half time at night, making sure books and DVDs were put back on their proper shelves.
"It was a mistake to eliminate a page," Doran said. "That causes books to be backed up. It's more work for the pages and not as good a service for the patrons."
Fisher said the library must continue to make do with its limited funds.
"We're still trying to serve the public the best way we can with the resources that we have available," Fisher said. "Unfortunately, the demand has grown while the resources have decreased."