Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Public libraries and Sunday labor (updated)

From the Capital Times today:

Sunday at the library popular, expensive
Mayor's budget cuts those hours

By Lee Sensenbrenner
October 18, 2005

Madison could be nearly the only city in Dane County not to have any Sunday library hours under the 2006 operating budget proposed by Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.

Cieslewicz's plan to save money by keeping the Central Library closed on Sundays instead of being open Sundays from October through April has become an early chafing point as the city moves toward adopting a budget next year.

Madison Public Library Director Barb Dimick told the Board of Estimates Monday that 1-5 p.m. period that the Central Library is open on Sunday sees higher traffic and use than most other four-hour periods in the schedule and is "a peak period during winter."

It's a popular time for family excursions, she said. And it's a time when downtown streets near the library, 201 W. Mifflin St., do not charge for parking.

But it's also a time when the staff is paid overtime, or one-and-a-half times their hourly rate, because of their contract. The Sunday hours were added in the late 1990s, Dimick said, and at the time that meant accepting overtime payments.

She said that the union contract with library staff is up for negotiation next year. As it stands, eliminating Sunday hours would mean a $60,000 savings in the $202 million budget.

Sun Prairie, Verona and Middleton all keep Sunday library hours.

I wonder how such a move would affect the effort to gain funding and legitimacy for a renovation of the Central Library building -- an effort which has been underway for years.

I wonder if this is a moment when those who want government to prioritize access to information (especially for those whose work schedules limit the hours that they can patronize libraries) should make their voices heard.

I wonder if there is anything in the professional or academic literature on libraries and community about the costs and benefits -- not just in dollars and cents, but in community goodwill and social capital -- of keeping libraries open seven days a week.

UPDATE 18 Oct 2005: One of our smart SLIS students pointed me to an article which begins to answer these questions:


Here's a good start:

Title: A Defense of Opening the Public Library on Sunday.
Subject(s): PUBLIC libraries; LIBRARY users
Author(s): Hennessy, Frank
Source: Library Journal, 05/01/85, Vol. 110 Issue 8, p25, 2p
Abstract: Proposes and defends the position that public libraries be
open on Sunday by discussing the concept of time allocation and its
implications for the cost of library service. Author's perception on
the value of time as a resource; Correlation between income, education
and time spent in library use; Implications of availability of time on
Sunday for library users; Recommendation of flexible week timings for
library staff.
AN: 7558839
ISSN: 0363-0277
Persistent link to this record: http://ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/login?
Database: Academic Search Elite

Hennessy is CORRECT, simply calculating the cost of time + overtime is
an incomplete calculation.

The article by Hennessy makes some interesting arguments, all of which have to do with the social construction of time -- the idea that any given hour at the library for one person is not the same as the same hour at the library for another person. Rather, for different groups of users with different resources and needs, library availability at different times and days of the week has differing value. For example, "Education has a direct effect on individual library productivity. The higher the education level, the more adept a person is at using the library, resulting in a decrease in time spent" but an increase in the value of that time. Thus keeping the library open on Sunday needs to be considered, especially for economically disadvantaged and/or less educated users whose time in the library is not as "productive" as that of affluent or highly-educated users, as an "efficient allocation of resources which results in the lowering of time cost to the library user." Doesn't roll off the tounge for a soundbite in the local media, but these are the kind of careful and nuanced arguments that information managers need to make in order to advocate on behalf of their current and prospective patrons.

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