Due to flat tax revenues and escalating pension costs, the city of San Jose has been forced to cut library hours year after year as well as make million dollar sacrifices in all other city departments. Even with all of the eliminations, San Jose continues to have a budget deficit. The current direction for the Library Department for fiscal year 2012-2013 is to cut an additional $2 million, which ultimately equates to library staff layoffs and less hours of operation.
It is unlikely that the four libraries currently closed in four different council districts will open in the coming years with the existing library delivery model. Instead, there is a high probability that library hours across the city will be reduced again to balance the budget. At a time when we need to preserve our police staffing, it is unlikely our libraries will receive any windfall of tax revenue.
San Jose is gifted with beautiful libraries funded by voter passed bonds. Our goal should be to open our libraries for as many hours a week as possible. Certainly, the most important concern is to have the library doors open.
We need to re-examine the current delivery model for San Jose libraries and seriously consider how we can incorporate volunteers to fully maximize the hours of operation at all of our libraries. Any change from the current delivery model requires approval from the union.
Volunteers could add value. For example, they could augment current library staff to extend the number of hours a specific library is open. This does not mean laying off current staff, but rather simply augmenting staff with volunteers to gain an extra open day a week. Or, in a worse case scenario, retaining the current hours in the face of budget cuts. In relation to volunteering for civic purposes, 71 percent of fire fighters in this country are volunteer.
I hope that the mandatory meeting process, which is known as “meet and confer” (not open to the public or even elected officials, unfortunately), between the unions and the city might result in some movement to incorporate volunteers. My fear is that if we don’t make some changes now, then the council may have to consider another cost saving alternative like outsourcing the libraries to a third party, as is being done in other cities. Although outsourcing would extend the hours and days of operation, it would also most likely bring layoffs. As a result, I would like to see volunteers utilized.
As I mentioned above, the vast majority of fire fighters in the USA are volunteer, therefore, I believe mustering volunteers for a library would be less difficult in comparison. One reason for less difficulty is because 95 percent of San Jose library patrons today already use self-checkout machines for their library materials. Maximizing volunteer opportunities would open the door for both residents to utilize the library and for resident volunteers to come forward and be part of the solution.
More than 3,000 volunteers near and far have come out to support the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden, and I believe people would do the same for libraries given the opportunity. Allowing volunteers to augment city staff would avoid layoffs and stretch our library department funding further to benefit our customer: San Jose residents.
Please help keep the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden the number one rose garden in the USA by volunteering for Winter pruning this Saturday at 9am. Special recognition will be given to two of the many volunteers, Myles Tobin and Harry Garcia, who have volunteered more than 2,000 unpaid hours each. If you can’t make it, this event volunteer opportunity exists year-round at the park—except when it rains.