Sometimes, public protest pays off.
Last year, Fulton County’s commissioners cut $5 million from the county’s library budget to save money. The move forced the library system to lay off staff members and cut back on the hours of operation of the library’s branches. Library fans publicly objected.
“The voters told us this was a high priority,” said new District 3 Commissioner Lee Morris, who represents Buckhead and south Sandy Springs. “Everywhere I went, people asked about the libraries.”
On Jan. 21, the commissioners approved a $629 million budget that restores money the library system needed to return the existing branches to 2014 pre-reduction hours of operation and to staff new branches. County officials combined the library, arts and cultural and cooperative extension budgets and increased the total budgeted by more than $3.6 million over the final 2014 budget.
With the influx of cash, library officials are working to re-hire employees in order to restore services and hours of operation by April 1, said Kelly Robinson Vann, public relations and marketing director for the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System.
Originally, after the cuts, all but two of the library system’s 33 branches were closed on Fridays as the system reduced the number of hours the libraries were open to 996 hours a week from 1,562.
Some of those hours or operations later were restored and some branches, including the Buckhead Branch and Sandy Springs Branch, reopened on Fridays, according to the library system. The Northside Branch remained closed on Fridays.
Now, with the new county funds, the system plans to return to pre-2013 levels of operation, Vann said. Library officials are scheduled by Feb. 15 to reopen branches still closed on Fridays, she said.
The library system last year eliminated about 100 jobs, most of them held by part-time employees, she said. Library officials now plan this year to hire about 100 people, most of them in part-time jobs, to staff the libraries.
“It will start as soon as possible,” Vann said. “We’re really ramping up.”
But some question whether the new hires won’t be enough to restore the service levels the libraries have offered in the past.
“Restoring hours is wonderful for the patrons, but is it wonderful for the libraries?” asked Katharine Suttell, president of the Northside Library Association.
Suttell, who said she managed the Buckhead Library from 2000 to 2004, worried that even with the restoration of hours, other library needs would not be met. “Every branch is short-staffed …,” she said. “Yes, there will be more staff, but when you consider the difference between the staff now and when I was there, that’s a huge difference.”
Still, she welcomed the news of the restoration of hours at all branches.
“It’s a first step,” she said. “I just want to point out it’s not that easy. You just don’t restore the hours and then everything is fine. It’s a complicated
Morris said the change shows county officials paid attention to what residents said they wanted.
“Government ought to be responsive,” he said. “The citizens told us this was a high priority.”