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Libraries plan to cut hours

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- Starting July 6, the Dougherty County Public Library system will open 30 minutes later at its five locations and will close an hour earlier at its Central and Northwest branches on the nights those libraries stay open late.

Dougherty County Public Library Director Teresa Cole said the reduction of hours were caused by an additional 5 percent budget cut from the Dougherty County government after a 10 percent cut last year.

"We are funded by the county and, like all county departments, our budget has been cut because of the current economic crisis," Cole said. "We had hoped to avoid having to do this, but at this point, we've been forced to make the hard decision to reduce the operating hours of all branches."

Cole told The Albany Herald Wednesday afternoon that the Dougherty County Public Library system had a budget for Fiscal Year 2009 of $2,857,350. That budget was reduced to $2,472,192 in FY 2010. The FY 2011 budget for the year starting July 1 is $1,947,315. Cole said that the library's budget is funded 90 percent by Dougherty County and 10 percent by the state, which previously supplied 15 percent.

"I'm working the desk and we've pulled people off our non-public service positions behind the scenes, but we can only keep that up for so long because they're doing the work of two people and they are getting tired," Cole said. "They are friendly people, but they are getting fatigued and the energy level is definitely dropping."

Cole said that the Dougherty County Public Library system has been able to avoid cutting staff by not filling six vacant positions, including two management spots. She said that the system's staff already was lean and now sports 45 total employees for its five locations, with the bulk of those at the four-story Central Library location.

Because of the economic downturn, more Dougherty County residents and visitors are using the library system. Through May, 460,132 patrons had past through library door counters at the five branches, an increase of 9.2 percent over last year's total through May of 421,401. Despite being closed for 20 days in September during its relocation to Dawson Road, the Northwest Branch has checked out the most materials of the branches to its patrons with 237,916 units.

Library programming for children and adults have been affected the most by the budget challenges.

"Children's and adults' programming has been drastically reduced to have the staff available to check out books at the desk," said Cole, who's in her fourth year as Dougherty County's director. "We did everything we could to impact the patron the least, but it's still going to impact them."

Although he understood the reason for the reduced hours, regular Central Library patron Danny Dames said the changes will impact his ability to take his online classes from Ultimate Medical Academy based out of Tampa, Fla. Dames, 52, is in the second quarter of his administrative medical assistant studies.

"If I just came in and just wanted a book, it wouldn't make a difference, but if I wanted to spend quality time ... there's two hours less," said Dames, who spends long hours at the library studying with his laptop. "But, I don't want to get greedy because it's a privilege. I wish it was more hours instead of taking them away, but with the economy, you only have so much to work with.

"I'm not the only student here," he added. "You're skimming two hours off, so that means you have (to manage the) quality because you have less time. I might have to skip lunch because you have to make up more time because it is what it is."

Cole believes Fiscal Year 2012 could be worse for the library's budget, but she is hopeful that Dougherty County revenues will increase once the new Wal-Mart opens in East Albany next spring.

"We're hoping that will increase our revenue county-wide," she said. "It's the only thing I see that will keep us from more severe cuts next year -- keeping in mind I don't have a crystal ball."