visitors wait outside the locked Santa Cruz Library, waiting for them to open. Administrators are working to complete a budget in the face of even more cuts. Photo by Morgan Grana.
Visitors wait outside the locked Santa Cruz Library, waiting for them to open. Administrators are working to complete a budget in the face of even more cuts. Photo by Morgan Grana.

They still use due-date cards and paste paper pockets onto the front pages of books. You’d think it was the 1990s. But it isn’t.

It is the sight you will see at any of the Santa Cruz Public Library system’s 10 branches, whose locations stretch from Boulder Creek to Live Oak.

“We lag way far behind,” Director Teresa Landers said. “This is the 21st century, and we’re probably at least 30 years behind the rest of the library world in terms of technology and infrastructure.”

The antiquated check-in and check-out system is just one in a long list of issues that library leaders will have to address by the June deadline to have their budget approved. Leaders will have to figure out how to weigh the priorities and needs of the library and community. Addressing future technological improvements will be among their top priorities.

At the same time, they will have to balance their budget in a tough and challenging economic climate that has seen a decrease in revenue and ever-shrinking funding in recent years.

“All of a sudden we got revenue reports coming back saying: ‘It’s dropping like crazy, you’re not going to get the revenue you thought you were going to get,’” said Barbara Gorson, chair of the Library Joint Powers Board.

Last year, leaders of the system went to the chopping block in order to respond to the loss of revenue. Operating hours were the first to be cut. Library leaders had to furlough employees and subsequently close on Fridays — a practice that began in February.

“We then took a 54 percent reduction in hours in July, and that meant cutting more staff,” Landers said.

In addition to hours, library leaders also cut money from their materials budget, a budget that goes toward new books, DVDs and CDs in order to help cover the deficit.

“That was over $1 million, and took a cut to $800,000 last year,” Landers said. “This year it will probably be about $500,000.”

Library leaders have also had to defer spending on new technology, vehicle maintenance and building maintenance, ranging from a driveway that needs resealing in Boulder Creek to a roof that needs replacing in Capitola. Programming was also cut.

“We’re at a point in time where we need to deal with the serious decline in revenue and develop a plan that will get us through the next three to five years without losing all of our patrons,” Gorson said.

Administrators formed the Strategic Plan Committee as their answer. Created in August 2009, the committee aims to develop a three-to-five-year plan to prepare for the future and address economic challenges. The committee includes Gorson, Landers and representatives from all levels of library staff, the Joint Powers Board and members of the community.

The committee members have been busy since August, holding several town hall and focus group meetings across the county and conducting online surveys to gather input from the community. The survey, which ends later this month, will help the committee determine which services matter most to the community.

“We’ve been data-gathering, and that ends in another week or two,” Landers said. “It’s putting us in a position where we are all on the same page.”

Since October 2009 they have held 11 town hall meetings across the county.

“This will help the board make decisions within an informed context,” Gorson said. “It will give us a fuller picture so that we are not making decisions that are ad hoc — in the heat of the moment.”

Library administrators are working diligently to prepare for their budget decisions. As they face tough cuts, they also struggle with whether or not they even have the breathing room to modernize an outdated system, which Landers says is no longer being used by any other library in the country.

While leaders prepare to make such decisions over the coming months, a morning crowd builds outside the central branch library on Church Street, a building that the director has described as an “old” and “tired” facility. They are waiting for the library to open.

Among this crowd is Hernan Morales, a Santa Cruz resident since 1993.

“I think it sucks,” he said of the library’s waning hours. “I need the library to be open — I need to search for jobs.”

Landers says people like Morales turn to the library’s resources during times of recession. Library users and the leaders of the public library system have one thing in common: they are both trying to save money. At the expense of whom is the question that remains to be answered.