Hyannis Library ‘Unduly Penalized,’ Reports Says
By: Laura M. Reckford
Barnstable Town Manager John C. Klimm heard two vastly different things about libraries last year. He heard that a new funding formula put together by the Barnstable Library Committee would devastate the Hyannis Public Library, which was bearing the brunt of the cuts. And he heard from Library Committee Chairman Mark C. Cote that the library could handle the cuts and he would never let the Hyannis Library close.
“This has been a difficult issue for me,” Mr. Klimm said.
So seeking answers, Mr. Klimm hired a consultant using $3,000 out of his own office budget. This week he received the
consultant’s report, and it sided with Hyannis Library.
The report states that if the funding formula continues, “In 2012, the library is essentially dead.”
Charles M. Sabatt, the head of the board of trustees of the Hyannis Library, said the consultant has verified what the trustees have been telling the library committee and the town manager, that “if this formula continues, we will be effectively out of business.”
Mr. Sabatt, who also serves on the library committee, said he heard some skepticism among other library committee members on that position as the debate over funding heated up last year. He also said the report comes out in favor of looking at the town’s library system as a whole and that following that advice would provide a silver lining to the whole debate.
Mr. Klimm said he needed to get to the bottom of the issue by means of an unbiased source, because it could influence decisions on the town budget, which is due to be submitted to the Barnstable Town Council on May 6.
“I have to decide if ultimately I’m going to intervene,” he said.
The consultant who examined the operations and financing at the Hyannis Library was Nancy Rea, a former deputy director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.
Mr. Klimm emphasized, “She has no affiliation with anyone in town.” That was important, Mr. Klimm said, because as a Hyannis resident who was born and raised in the village, “some have suggested I have a bias.”
Ms. Rea made four recommendations: to immediately freeze the phase in of the new funding formula; to continue to follow the Cohen Report, a report commission three years ago; to conduct a library user survey town-wide; and to develop a master plan for the town’s library services.
In her first recommendation, Mr. Klimm said, “She calls into question the formula itself.”
The new funding formula put in place by the library board last year was heavily weighed in favor of libraries with high circulation and that criteria accounted for 50 percent of the funding formula.
For the Hyannis Library, the new formula meant that over two years, one-third of the library’s budget would be cut.
Mr. Cote explained the new funding formula last year by saying, “performance should be the key criteria and for that, libraries look to circulation.”
But Ms. Rea disagreed. In the report, Ms. Rea stated, “The new criteria, with an emphasis on circulation statistics, are not reflective of the users and activity at an urban library such as the [Hyannis Public Library] and unduly penalize one library.”
Mr. Klimm said Ms. Rea points out in the report that library functions have evolved in recent years, and that measurements of “building activity and computer use,” would be helpful statistics when looking at Hyannis Public Library.
The purpose of the study, Mr. Klimm said, was “to find out whether Hyannis Public Library was running efficiently and if additional efficiencies were needed to soften the blow.” Mr. Klimm said he wanted to know if, in Ms. Rea’s professional opinion, the library would have trouble remaining open with the proposed cuts. He also wanted her to review the new formula put forward by the Library Committee last year.
Ms. Rea met with library staff, trustees, and members of the library committee.
Hyannis Library Director Ann-Louise Harries said the consultant made her first visit anonymously and unannounced. In a second visit, she spent all afternoon at the library with Ms. Harries. She also attended a trustee meeting and spent time studying the library’s finances with the auditor.
Mr. Klimm said he cautioned Ms. Harries and Hyannis Library Trustee Board Chairman Charles Sabatt that “if the consultant found inefficiencies, it could reflect poorly on the library.”
“We welcomed it,” Ms. Harries said of the independent review. “We want the town to know this is a fatal blow. Frankly, if it continues, this library will close. She could see that I’m sure.”
Ms. Harries said she has not yet seen the report.
Mr. Klimm said he is scheduled to meet with Mark C. Cote, chairman of the library committee, early next week. The library committee next meets Tuesday, May 4 at 4:30 PM at the Sturgis Library in Barnstable Village.
Mr. Klimm said he plans to ask the library committee to review the report and make a recommendation to him. He added, “I’m not going to support a recommendation that an independent expert tells me would have a devastating effect.”
Ms. Harries said the cuts this year—$67,000 cut out of a $479,000 budget—have been “very, difficult” and she did not know what the library would do if the proposed cuts went forward next year. The library committee’s fundraising formula would take at least another $45,000 out of the budget.
This year’s cuts meant the loss of two full-time equivalent library positions. The library now has seven staffers plus a full-time security guard.
Ms. Harries said, “I have already warned my staff that if it goes through, there will be further staff cuts. I don’t know how we can run the library with more staff cuts. There is no one in reference anymore. It’s not fair to the users.”
The materials budget has been cut in half, among other changes. Ms. Harries has also cut the heat in the building, setting the thermostat at 55 degrees. “It’s like an ice box in winter,” Ms. Harries said of the historic section of the building. Because of the lowered thermostat, the perpetual fundraising book sale in the front of the building was closed this past winter.
And patrons have noticed, Ms. Harries said.
One positive thing that has come out of the cuts, Ms. Harries said, is the library now has a new friends of the library group and eight new trustees from the Hyannis area. The trustees will be sending out a fundraising letter to residents of Hyannis in the next few weeks.
After 37 years at the Hyannis Public Library, Ms. Harries said she has seen the library go through some difficult times, but nothing like this year.
“They are working on destroying an institution that has been here since 1865. It serves a unique population on the Cape. I think there needs to be a library on Main Street, Hyannis,” Ms. Harries said.
She said she hopes Mr. Klimm “takes the report and uses it to our advantage, if it shows us to be really disadvantaged from further cuts.”
Mr. Cote, chairman of the library board, said he has not yet read the report because he just received it.
He said the library committee still needs to decide whether to implement the second year of the formula, delay it, or pursue some other alternative. Mr. Cote said his meeting with Mr. Klimm about the library budget next week “will have some bearing on what the library committee decides to recommend to the town manager as to how the money is divided.”
As to how the past year has gone with the new funding formula, Mr. Cote said, “It has been a tough year for all the libraries,” because of the difficult economy, but he said he believes all seven of the town’s libraries have made it through in good form.
“The service level remains the same. No one has cut hours. We’ve had staff cuts through attrition and made other adjustments that are saving money,” he said.
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