The Sonoma County Regional Library Commission voted unanimously Monday night to significantly reduce public library hours, shuttering all county libraries on Mondays and limiting evening hours to one day per week.
More than a dozen library employees and members of the community attended, and many expressed concerns that the reduced hours would limit access to libraries for college students, senior citizens and school children.
"The long-term impact of this would be the devaluing of education in Sonoma County," said Shepherd Bliss, owner of Kokopelli Farm, who also teaches at Sonoma State University.
The commissioners said the plan, which will take effect on July 31, was the result of reduced revenues. Evening hours will be limited to Wednesdays at all library branches, and the main library in Santa Rosa will remain the only county library open on Sundays.
"It is unfortunate that the budget requires that we do this," said Julia Freis, a library commissioner. "We are no longer facing a budget crisis. We're facing a long-term reduction in revenues."
Other library commissioners agreed.
"We certainly have gotten an enormous amount of input from the public," said commissioner Tom Colbert. "We heard their concerns and very emotional response, and this is a lousy thing to have to do. I honestly don't see an alternative."
Nancy Cimino, a copy cataloguer for the main library and long-time employee of Sonoma County libraries, read a letter to the commission from the library's union members stating their belief that the deficit was exaggerated.
"What you term a &‘10 percent decline in revenue' is, in our estimation, a problem of allocation and over-inflated line items for expenditures in the library's budget," she said.
Kathy Nixon, branch manager for Cloverdale who attended the meeting, said branch managers had no opportunity to make individual decisions about how deeply to reduce operating hours.
"We were given a template of what it had to be," Nixon said in an interview.
Other library employees who attended said the Monday closures would make the library chaotic on Tuesdays.
Meanwhile, an alternative meeting was held in Sebastopol to discuss alternatives to service reductions.
Dena Bliss of Sebastopol suggested that libraries could charge a fee for borrowing videos or placing library books on hold, and the state could create a tax on coffee drinks, an idea she referred to as "lattes for libraries."
"There's a lot of money and a lot of willingness, I think, to supporting the public ideal of free, democratic libraries," Bliss said in an interview.
The reduced evening and weekend hours could hurt those who use the library's Internet connection to search for jobs and junior college students writing research papers, said Ginny Gustin, branch manager for the Northwest Santa Rosa Library outside Coddingtown Mall.
She said the nine Internet stations at that library branch are often booked up by mid-day.
"A lot of the people who depend on us here don't have other ways to get the use of library resources," Gustin said. "If we do change to only one night a week, that will certainly be a disservice to people who can't get here during the weekday, when they're cleaning homes or mowing lawns."