Plan would return library hours to pre-COVID levels.

Patrons of the Saint Paul Public Library system will see hours and staffing largely restored to pre-pandemic levels beginning in November. However, Mayor Melvin Carter’s proposed public library budget for 2022 is raising some red flags for City Council members.

The mayor’s library budget uses $1,035,956 from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to expand hours and restore 12.5 positions. The federal funds are one-time revenue, and other revenue will have to be found when those funds run out. City Council member Jane Prince, who chairs the city’s Library Board, has asked city staff for information on how the library will make up the deficit in the future. In any case, the new employees will be hired under the terms of ARP, according to Saint Paul Public Library director Catherine Penkert, and it will be made clear to them that it is possible their jobs will not be extended.

Saint Paul’s public library system took some of the biggest hits during the pandemic. Library staff members were cut from 177 to 162 full-time-equivalent positions. Only the Mayor’s Office, the Office of Financial Services and the Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity saw their budgets cut by a larger percentage.

Mayor Carter, in his library budget address, said that because of the challenges created by the pandemic, “my 2021 budget scaled back city services in ways we never would’ve imagined. While we have work to do to fully emerge from this pandemic, my 2022 library budget restores library hours and staffing to ensure that all residents have the access to the libraries they want and need.”

   

Library hours are at 645 per week now, but in November they will increase to 712 per week. The hours will not change at the West Seventh, Highland Park and Sun Ray libraries. However, all other library branches will see more hours. Sunday hours will be restored at the Latimer Central Library. Saturday hours at the Merriam Park, Hamline-Midway, Riverview, Rice Street, Saint Anthony Park, Dayton’s Bluff and Hayden Heights libraries will be expanded to 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Carter’s proposed general fund library budget for 2022 is $18,774,155—up $350,688 or 1.9 percent from 2021. That includes $18,710,084 from property taxes, up 2.2 percent from 2021.

The public library is also funded with Local Government Aid from the state, the city sales tax, parking revenue, and outside grants and donations. As some grants expire, those funds are expected to dip slightly—from $2,113,034 in 2021 to $1,747,698 in 2022. That makes for a total library budget of $20,457,781 in 2022, up less than $50,000 from the 2021 budget of $20,415,211. However, the 2022 budget total does not include the $1,035,956 in ARP funds.

 

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Library staff will also be added through AmeriCorps (seven positions) and federal Community Development Block Grants (4.4 positions). The CDBG positions will staff the library career labs that help patrons seeking new jobs.

The city’s public libraries operated this year at their lowest staffing levels since 2004, according to Penkert. Total library hours hovered at about 730 per week back in 2008, then fell due to the recession and cuts in Local Government Aid from the state. Library hours were at 660 per week in 2013 and rebounded from there. Then the pandemic struck.

Library hours are at 645 per week now, but in November they will increase to 712 per week. The hours will not change at the West Seventh, Highland Park and Sun Ray libraries. However, all other library branches will see more hours. Sunday hours will be restored at the Latimer Central Library. Saturday hours at the Merriam Park, Hamline-Midway, Riverview, Rice Street, Saint Anthony Park, Dayton’s Bluff and Hayden Heights libraries will be expanded to 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

The Saint Paul Public Library faces other budget challenges, according to Penkert. One is the demand for e-materials, which increased about 40 percent between January and July when compared to the same period in 2019. E-materials have a higher cost, Penkert said. For example, William Kent Krueger’s new novel Lightning Strike costs $14.72 in hardcover. The license for the e-book is $59.99, and $109 for the e-audiobook.

Another issue is the need to replace aging materials. Penkert noted that much of the library’s collection of juvenile nonfiction is older than the young people who check out the materials.

Another need is additional “hot spot” Wi-Fi devices for checkout. According to Penkert, 91 percent of library patrons lack Internet service at home, so additional devices will be added. The West Seventh and Central branches are among those with the heaviest hot spot usage. Patrons check out the hot spots to do school work, banking and stay in touch with people.

— Jane McClure

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