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Libraries to shift staff resources, change hours

When the economy is sluggish, the pace at the library picks up.

That's the word from Washington County library officials, who said over the last year the county's nine libraries have seen a 10-percent increase in circulation.

An increase in visitors at the county's largest branches has taken a toll on staff, and for that reason the Washington County Board voted 4-1 at its Nov. 25 meeting to change the hours of the libraries in the county. Commissioner Gary Kriesel was the dissenting vote.

All of the libraries will see either a reduction or change in hours of operation, with the smaller libraries seeing reduction in hours, and the larger libraries seeing an increase in staff.

The county's four smallest, or "boutique" branches (located in Newport, Lakeland, Marine and Lake Elmo) will now be closed on Saturday and Sunday in an effort by library management to shift its staff resources to deal with an influx of users at the county's largest, or "resource" branches in Woodbury and Forest Lake.

"Our superb library staff has been stretched to the limit in providing 18,000 hours a year," said county library director Pat Conley, regarding the recent increase in usage the county libraries have experienced.

Conley told the board that the shift in hours is the cost- effective alternative to asking for more library staff workers, as the county's budget is forecasted to be tight in the near future.

R.H. Stafford Library in Woodbury and Hardwood Creek Library in Forest Lake, which are considered "resource" branches, will not decrease their 61 weekly hours of operation, but will open one half-hour earlier and close one-half hour earlier during weekdays and Saturday. Woodbury and Forest Lake branches will also see more staff on hand during peak hours of usage, Conley said.

The Park Grove branch in Cottage Grove, which is one of three mid-sized, or "community" branches, will see the most dramatic decrease in its hours of operation from 58 to 49 hours. But the location will see an increase in staff to cover the concentrated hours, Conley said. Park Grove will continue to be open weekends.

Also as part of the shift, the county's four boutique libraries, which include Newport, will be open 20 hours a week, and closed Saturday and Sunday.

The Oakdale and Mahtomedi "community" branches will continue to remain open seven days a week.

The new hours for all of the libraries will take effect Jan. 2, Conley said.

"I have to repeat though, that we do not intend to close any of our libraries," Conley said. "This change will actually help us do just that."

Commissioner Gary Kriesel, who cast the dissenting vote on the proposal, expressed frustration that boutique libraries were going to be closed on the weekends, when he said most residents use the library.

"A lot of folks can only get to the libraries on Saturday," Kriesel said. "To decrease the hours that our smaller libraries are open, that's just not a lot of hours in the week."

Conley pointed out that 63 percent of the county library system's circulation is located at the two resource branches and four boutique branches only account for 4 percent of circulation.

"It's a fact of life that we're seeing the demand, the increase at our biggest libraries, so that's where we have to shift our resources," Conley said. "Believe me, I'd love to have more staff, but this is a proposal that will keep all our libraries open and deal with the increases.

Hank Long can be reached at