A small group of Sonoma County Library employees picketed Monday in front of the Central Library in downtown Santa Rosa protesting contract concessions sought by the Library Commission.

"We've never faced this kind of intransigence before," said Karen Guma, a staff librarian and labor representative with Service Employees International Union Local 1021.

About eight sign-toting workers participated in an "informational picket" while patrons waited to enter the library at Third and E streets.

Guma said the seven-member commission — appointed by county supervisors and the Santa Rosa and Petaluma city councils — is seeking "takeaways" of about $729,000, including increased employee contributions to health benefits.

The library system, supported largely by property tax revenue, is spending millions on technology upgrades and has reserves of about $6 million, union members said.

They say the commission is intent on balancing its $16.8 million operating budget largely through employee concessions.

"That's not fair," Guma said. "It's taking the money from the people who can least afford it."

SEIU represents about 190 library workers.

Budget cuts prompted by declining tax revenue "must come primarily from salaries and benefits," which account for 74 percent of the system's costs, said Patrick Preston, the library's human resources manager.

Implementation of a book self-checking system has been "scaled back" because of the budget crunch, Preston said. But the system is needed so the library can "better serve its patrons going forward," he said, and was recommended by employee committees.

The library's financial reserves — about $5 million at the end of the current fiscal year — are intended for capital improvements, not operating expenses, Preston said.

The library system is a joint powers agency created by the county and cities. It includes the Central Library, 10 regional libraries, two rural stations and other services.