Good news for county libraries

Ethan Hook, 10, looks over a book on sharks at the Morro Bay Library on Thursday, June 19.
Ethan Hook, 10, looks over a book on sharks at the Morro Bay Library on Thursday, June 19. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Finally, a happy ending to a sad chapter for county libraries.

As reported in today’s Tribune, the county’s largest libraries — San Luis Obispo, Atascadero and Arroyo Grande — will once again be open to the public on Mondays, starting July 1. (Paso Robles is not in the countywide library system.)

While most smaller branches will still be closed on Mondays, all libraries in the county system will add some hours, depending on what works best for each community. Overall, hours of operation at each library will increase by as much as 20 percent.

Another piece of good news: The $1 hold fee has been eliminated; patrons can now reserve up to 10 items at a time, at no charge.

This will be done without any additional taxpayer support; the county Board of Supervisors did not increase funding or staffing for libraries. Instead, Director of Libraries Christopher Barnickel found ways to increase efficiency. For instance, he reduced down time — those periods when libraries are staffed but not open to the public.

This expansion of service is a giant turnaround from 2005, when libraries cut Mondays from their schedule in order to avoid shutting down any branches. That decision followed the defeat of Measure L, a quarter-cent sales tax increase that would have helped fund county libraries.

Following that disappointment at the polls, the Great Recession struck.

Yet local libraries have managed to hold on and even thrive. With help from dedicated Friends of the Library organizations, there have been some big improvements, including new libraries in Cambria and Atascadero and the remodeling of the Morro Bay Library that’s now underway. But even the most up-to-date facilities are of no use if they aren’t accessible to the public, which is why we’re delighted — and thankful — that staff figured out a way to extend operating hours without increasing the budget.

Plus, this could be just the start. As the budget grows, Barnickel said, libraries may be able to add more hours and could even add Sunday afternoon to their schedules. Great idea. It makes sense for libraries to be open when many of their patrons have the day off from work and school.

Keep in mind, though, that expansion of library services will depend, to some degree, on the response from users.

If you don’t have a library card — or you have one and haven’t used it for a while — now would be an excellent time to check out what your local library has to offer.