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Sonoma County libraries significantly expand operating hours in the new year

Sonoma County libraries are expanding their hours in 2022 in an effort to increase accessibility and meet demand for free services and activities, officials announced Monday.

All regional branches will now be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the locations close two hours later at 8 p.m.

A measure passed by Sonoma County voters in November 2016 made these new hours possible, said Sonoma County Libraries spokesman Ray Holley.

Measure Y added one-eighth of one cent to local sales tax — an immeasurably small addition to individual purchases that brings in close to $1 million a month for the county library system, according to Holley.

This extension represents an additional 10 hours per week in library operations.

Before the new year, regional branches opened at noon and closed at 7 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, and operated between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

“It’s our job to serve our community, to live up to the promise of Measure Y and, more importantly, to live up to the promise of a free library that is accessible as long as possible to as many people as possible,” Holley said.

Alongside the regional branches’ changes, the county’s History and Genealogy Library, a specialized research resource, increased its daily operations from two hours to six hours, five days a week.

Operating hours at the two community library branches in Forestville and Occidental have not changed. The Central Santa Rosa Library will also continue to be open Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m.

Tuesday and Wednesday were selected for the week’s longest hours due to feedback from youth librarians, the staff who work with school-age children, who determined through local school and homework schedules that staying open later these days would maximize the amount of time kids and their families can spend at the library.

Sara Ortiz, president of the Sonoma County Public Library Foundation, a private nonprofit that raises funds to benefit the county’s library system, said she welcomed Monday’s announcement.

“I am absolutely thrilled that the library hours are being expanded — especially with the pandemic,” she said, adding that the extended hours will make it possible for people to visit the library after work or bring in their children at earlier hours.

Ortiz said the new hours are an example of the county “keeping promises made.” Extending library hours, as a result of the revenue raised by the passage of Measure Y, was one of the main promises made by advocates for the sales tax increase.

The expanded hours bring the libraries’ operation hours close to what they were before the pandemic, officials said.

Coronavirus-related budgetary concerns cut hours and operations for many services across the county, including the library system.

Although the highly transmissible omicron strain of the coronavirus is now surging locally, as well as worldwide, Holley said that libraries are confident they can safely expand indoor activities.

"This was in the planning stages for two to three months before anyone heard about omicron,“ Holley said. ”With so many more people vaccinated and with so many more people getting used to COVID safety protocol, it just made more sense.“

Library health measures will continue, Holley said, including mandatory masking indoors for all patrons and staff.

Holley added that local libraries plan to reintroduce a much-missed activity — indoor story time — sometime this year.

In the last two years of the pandemic, libraries hosted virtual and outdoor story times in lieu of in-person activities. But, as changes in the spread of COVID-19 become better understood, library staff are hopeful they can resume the events inside with members of the community.

You can reach Staff Writer Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or emily.wilder@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @vv1lder.

Emily Wilder

Criminal justice and public safety 

Criminal justice is one of the most stirring and consequential systems, both in the North Bay and nationwide. Crime, policing, prosecution and incarceration have ripples that reach many parts of our lives, and these issues are under increasingly powerful microscopes. My goal is to uncover untold stories and understand the unique impacts of criminal justice and public safety on Sonoma County.

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