- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

The D.C. library system’s 25 libraries will cut operating hours beginning March 2 even as the grim economy drives more residents to libraries to look for jobs and to take out free books and CDs, library officials said Thursday.

“I think this will be a big hardship for the most frequent users,” said user Edward Jackson at the Tenley-Friendship Interim Library on Wisconsin Avenue Northwest. He said many people use the library daily as a place to stay warm.

The economy has driven down city tax receipts, leading to lower-than-expected library funding. The D.C. library system has 479 employees.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library will close at 5:30 p.m. rather than 9. Smaller libraries will either open later or close earlier two days a week.

The move could save the system millions of dollars in overtime costs for its overstretched staff, which has been working double and triple shifts to maintain the current hours and keep up with increased demand. The libraries have spent $280,000 in overtime costs in fiscal 2009.

“Reducing hours in not something we like to do,” said Ginnie Cooper, chief librarian for the D.C. Public Library. “Of course, nobody is losing their jobs and that’s very good news.”

The library’s circulation has risen 34 percent so far this fiscal year, she said. Library officials are hoping more volunteers will help the system deal with the increased use.

The board of trustees decided to reduce hours after learning that the system was unlikely to receive about $2 million in municipal funds, which are used to increase staffing. The District is projecting a $250 million loss in tax revenue for this fiscal year.

The library system, which has a budget of $46.6 million this fiscal year, had not hired any additional employees, so no layoffs were required. Still, D.C. Public Library officials warned that further reductions may be necessary depending on the economic climate.

All neighborhood libraries will reduce their operating times by seven hours per week and kiosk libraries will decrease by eight hours per week.

“I don’t have a computer so I come here all the time,” said Gary Thom, also at the Tenley-Friendship Interim Library. “It is better than people getting laid off though.”

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