Photo by Molly Solomon

Members of the Library Joint Powers Board (LJPB) held meetings in Aptos, Santa Cruz and Felton March 26 to hear from the community about the newly proposed public library model. The members will vote on the proposal April 4.

By July 2012, the proposed plan would increase library hours by 53 percent. It would also slowly reduce the amount of paid library staff. This model received mixed support in the Santa Cruz meeting. The LJPB plans to continue a dialogue with the community throughout the process.

The proposed plans would be an alternative to closing branches in the face of budget cuts.

The Aptos and Felton meetings had about three dozen attendees each, and a smaller crowd appeared at the Santa Cruz meeting. Ellen Pirie, a county supervisor and library board member, took note of the turnout at these meetings.

“I support this compromise,” Pirie said. “I think it’s great that people turned out, especially given the weather. We had a great turnout at Aptos, and I think that it’s because people care. They want to be sure that our library continues to be relevant.”

The new proposal would raise revenue and keep all 10 branches open. Local library patrons, like Peter Pethoe, are pleased to find that the new model wouldn’t close smaller branches.

“I think all of these problems are solvable,” Pethoe said. “It seems to me that, as long as we have the 10 branches in the neighborhood, that’s the most important thing.”

The new plan would seek volunteers to replace some paid page staff, those who shelve and sort library materials. Some see this as an opportunity to reach out to schools. The plan would call for a full-time volunteer management staff.

Barbara Gorson, chair of the library board, said that these changes are needed for the development of the library system.

“It’s a model that, since it does keep all the branches open, is flexible,” Gorson said. “Libraries everywhere are changing rapidly. This model will allow us to change direction. It’s a big change for staff.”

If the model is implemented, LJPB will seek continual feedback with surveys. David Terrazas, Santa Cruz council member and library board member, said he would like to hear from UCSC students.

“I think sometimes there’s a disconnect between what happens in the city [and at UCSC],” Terrazas said. “It’s important that UCSC students who use the library also comment on the types of programs they’d like to see, how they can get more involved —  either volunteer opportunities or how to make contributions to the success of that system.”

Although many are relieved to see no library closures, others are worried about what reduced staffing would mean. Carol Long, a meeting attendee, said that she is concerned about losing personal interaction.

“I really think that people don’t understand what’s at stake here, in terms of the professional reference services,” Long said. “I believe that’s what’s being cut back in order to invite more hours.”

Reference services will be available on-site during peak hours at some branches, over the phone, on the website, and through a 24/7 online chat service. Some worry that finding reference information would be difficult for people who are unfamiliar with computers. The LJPB is continuing to work on the details of this structure.

Gorson said that the compromise is the most promising.

“I’m really happy that we are able to come up with something that seems to meet most of our needs,” Gorson said. “And nothing would ever meet all of everybody’s needs.”