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La Jolla Library closer to restoring Sunday hours

Astronaut and La Jolla High School graduate James Hansen Newman speaks at the La Jolla/Riford Library in April.
(La Jolla/Riford Library)

San Diego’s library system also plans to renew Sunday service at a dozen other branches after a long delay blamed on problems filling 275 vacancies spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The long-awaited return of Sunday public library hours in La Jolla could come this spring. San Diego library system officials say they’ve made significant progress filling 275 employee vacancies spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, which temporarily shut down the city’s libraries in spring 2020.

City Library Director Misty Jones said this week that she expects to start restoring Sunday hours at some branches in the next two months, after more new hires come on board and negotiations with city labor unions are complete.

She plans to eventually have Sunday service at 13 of the city’s 36 branches. The proposed hours are 1-5 p.m.

“Many people, especially families, can’t make it to the library during the week due to work, etc., so it is essential that we have weekend hours on both Saturday and Sundays as an option,” Jones said.

About 120 employees are needed to work the Sunday hours at the 13 branches that will be open, she said.

If there aren’t enough workers for Sunday service to resume at all of those branches immediately, Jones plans to first add Sunday hours at four branches in low-income areas: downtown, Valencia Park, Logan Heights and City Heights.

Along with La Jolla, the remaining branches slated for Sunday service are Mira Mesa, Otay Mesa, Pacific Beach, Mission Valley, Carmel Valley, Serra Mesa, Point Loma and Rancho Bernardo.

Regular branch hours currently are 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays and 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.

Friday and Saturday hours are expected to be restored at the Ocean Beach Library on Friday, Feb. 3, Jones said.

Jones had hoped to restore Sunday service at many branches last spring, but the process of filling vacancies has been much more complex and time-consuming than she anticipated, she said, noting that she is still facing 176 vacancies.

San Diego also was relatively slow to reopen its branches on days other than Sundays.

“It’s been a long slog,” Jones told the City Council last week. “Unfortunately, we’re having a really hard time filling those lower-level positions. A lot of it has to do with the lower salaries.”

In addition, earlier in the pandemic, Jones and Mayor Todd Gloria decided to use library closures as an opportunity to make a significant long-term change in library staffing, replacing the library’s hourly, part-time positions with jobs that have benefits. The goal was reducing turnover, which had been roughly 30 percent among hourly employees.

Jones said the process hasn’t gone as smoothly as she had hoped but she is working with the city’s Personnel Department on possible solutions.

“We’re looking at consolidating some of those positions, changing them to a little bit of a higher position,” Jones said. “Maybe we can take some of those half-time positions and make them full-time positions.”

Local library boosters say the delay in restoring Sunday hours, while disappointing, is understandable in a tight labor market.

“We completely understand the challenges they’re facing,” said Patrick Stewart, chief executive of the San Diego Library Foundation. “It’s tough.”

Stewart said jobs that attracted 500 applicants and 150 viable candidates in the past now attract roughly half those numbers in both categories.

But Stewart said the city also is to blame for an unusually slow hiring process for all city jobs, which take an average of more than 200 days to fill. “It’s an egregious amount of time,” he said.

Frustrated by the problem, the City Council considered placing a measure on last November’s ballot that would have given the mayor more power to accelerate hiring. But promises of reform by personnel officials prompted council members to delay the ballot measure indefinitely.

— La Jolla Light Editor Rob Vardon contributed to this report.