The Okanagan Regional Library is considering cuts at 19 branches, including those in Sicamous and Salmon Arm, to achieve a better balance of service levels at its libraries.
Last week, ORL announced its CEO Stephanie Hall has drafted a staffing level plan for branches were spending needs to be reduced. Among them, the Salmon Arm branch is looking at a reduction equivalent of 1.86 of a full-time positions; half a full-time position could be cut at the Sicamous branch, and .4 of a position from the Silver Creek library. No change is proposed for the Sorrento branch.
In total, ORL is looking to reduce 12.5 full-time positions at 19 of its 29 service locations.
Library staff and their union representatives with CUPE and the Professional Employees Association (PEA) have received a copy of the confidential staffing report, and have been asked for input.
ORL spokesperson Michele Rule assures the library board and administration are “not in a hurry to cut and slash or anything like that.”
“What they told us on the management team is they want us to take it really slow, so they want us to do a multi-year process, and they want us to do as much as possible without disturbing services,” said Rule. “But they understand that something is going to have to happen.”
The staffing plan is in response to a 2013 study comparing what local governments were paying for service levels at their respective library branches. What the ORL found, in essence, is that some communities like Salmon Arm and Sicamous were receiving more service for less money, while the opposite was happening at other branches.
Hall has said Salmon Arm is receiving almost $300,000 more in service than revenue recovered.
Rule noted Salmon Arm has already lost one position to attrition, and this has helped ORL meet its goal for 2014 without any layoffs.
Salmon Arm library branch head James Laitinen, who is also a PEA member, confirms there is no definite timeline as to how the proposed staffing changes will play out, adding management hopes to achieve any cost savings through attrition, as opposed to actual layoffs. Regardless, he says require a balancing act at individual branches facing cuts.
“I have a certain amount of sympathy for management having to kind of balance all of this. It seems an impossible scenario,” said Laitinen. “But when you look at cutting staff, even if it is through attrition… it still has an impact on the branch and you either have to work a hell of a lot harder to sustain the service level that you have, or you have to look at what do we give up. Because we may not be able to do it or we may not be able to do it as effectively.”
The ORL announcement states library offerings have been on the rise, and the board saw a 12 per cent increase in program attendance in 2013, as well as a 56 per cent increase in free downloads of electronic files (ebooks, audiobooks, music and magazines). That 12 per cent figure represents what has been seen at the Sicamous and Salmon Arm branches, which run several programs including the popular summer reading clubs, a Lego program and family game nights. The Salmon Arm branch is in the process of adding a book club. But Laitinen says such programming may be lost to accommodate the cuts.
Another cut the Salmon Arm branch is facing is Sunday openings during the winter months. At a recent city council meeting in Salmon Arm, Hall proposed the municipality could enter a $15,000 service agreement (on top of tax revenue) to maintain Sunday hours, which may be cut as of October 2015.
“At this point, Sunday openings in 2015 don’t look good, but I could be completely stunned and city council could say, ‘yeah, we’ll pick up the service contract…,’” said Laitinen. “My hunch is we won’t have the Sunday openings after this year, but you never know.”
Laitinen says he will be monitoring library usage on Sundays, suggesting hours could be cut from other days if the need is warranted.
“You have to look at what is ultimately going to best serve most of the people in the community.”
Laitinen points out the staffing plan only looks at library branches, and not administration. Rule says central processing will be looked at next year.
“We have about 50 staff in our headquarters building and we haven’t even started looking at efficiencies there,” said Rule. “So that will be part of the process for 2015. And if we can bring those costs down, then we have more money to send out to the branches.”