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San Diego plans to partially restore library cuts

Caution tape was spread across bookshelves at the La Jolla/Riford Library in October to prevent crowding.
Caution tape was spread across bookshelves at the La Jolla/Riford Library in October to prevent crowding, but books can still be checked out.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The mayor vows to fully restore service within a year, but officials say staffing challenges prevent anything sooner.

San Diego officials unveiled plans May 6 to partially reverse a proposal to slash library hours by 23 percent but said staffing challenges will delay plans to restore Sunday hours and that most branches in the 36-library city system will stay closed through the summer.

The La Jolla/Riford Library branch at 7555 Draper Ave. is open for limited in-person services from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

The city’s new plan would provide 46 hours of service per week at its library branches. That’s down from 55 hours per week before the COVID-19 pandemic but up from the 42.5 hours that Mayor Todd Gloria included in his proposed city budget last month.

Each branch would be open 8½ hours every Monday through Thursday and six hours every Friday and Saturday.

Even with the restoration, library hours would be cut 16 percent.

Gloria and head librarian Misty Jones said they are committed to a full restoration of library hours within a year. But Jones told the City Council on May 6 that she can’t move any quicker because she must fill 167 vacant jobs.

Gloria and Jones also want to convert many of the library system’s part-time “hourly” jobs into either half-time or full-time positions with benefits, a complicated process that involves meeting with labor union officials.

Keeping the bulk of the library’s positions hourly has led to high staff turnover and significant retraining costs, officials said.

The staffing hurdles will delay until fall the reopening of 24 city library branches that remain closed except for book returns and pickups. The city reopened its 12 other branches, including La Jolla, in October.

A sign in front the La Jolla/Riford Library in October outlines the rules for indoor use after the library was reopened.
A sign in front the La Jolla/Riford Library in October outlines the rules for indoor use after the library was reopened for limited in-person services.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

“Given the time involved with converting these positions and hiring staff, systemwide reopening is not expected to be achievable in any restoration scenario at least until the fall,” said Baku Patel, who works for the city’s Independent Budget Analyst.

Jones said she plans to restore Sunday hours and reopen branches slowly as the staffing challenges are solved. She said branches in low-income areas would be prioritized for Sunday service.

“It’s going to take us a little while to ramp up because we have to do the hiring,” she told council members.

Jones said community rooms in some library branches would serve as “cool zones” this summer, even if those branches remain closed for other in-person services.

Gloria said he intends to “get back to a seven-day-a-week schedule across our library system over the next year. Staff is still working through the details, but more information will be released later this month.”

Councilwoman Vivian Moreno said the library’s staffing issues, which first came to light during a 2017 audit, should have been solved long ago.

“I understand that staffing is an issue, but I think we can do better,” she said, noting that San Diego recently was awarded $306 million in federal pandemic aid. “It’s a devastating impact to have even one day removed.”

Jones said it’s unclear how the new restoration plan will affect the library’s budget. Gloria’s initial proposal would have saved $5.6 million overall, shrinking the library’s annual budget from $59.7 million to $54.1 million.

The reduction in hours would have saved $6.9 million, but Gloria also was proposing $1.3 million in new spending to boost library budgets for activities and materials, including electronic books.

He also included money to make online programs available during closed hours and to grant special off-hours access to three branches in low-income areas.

Jay Goldstone, the city’s interim chief operating officer, said the restoration proposal would cost $3 million to $3.5 million. He said the money would come from revenue projections for the new fiscal year that city officials have revised upward in recent weeks.

— La Jolla Light staff contributed to this report.