Matching Furloughs with Library Usage

The holiday season is in full swing and I have long concluded that in these final weeks of the year, many regular library users are just too busy to come to the library. Usage drops dramatically and the staff has the opportunity to catch up on a few things and perhaps take a few vacation days. I hate to disappoint anyone, but with few exceptions, students do not come to the library to study over Christmas break.

Faced with three years of devastating budget cuts, the DMPL staff has agreed to furloughs two years in a row, three days in the last fiscal year and a staggering eight days this fiscal year. Like everything else, we learn from experience and improve the way we handle furloughs; I just hope we aren’t getting too good at it. Last year, we scheduled our three furlough days during the slowest week of the year, the week preceding Christmas. All our statistics showed that this was the week the public would be least affected by a library closure. With three furlough days followed by two holidays and a weekend, we were closed a solid week. Staff working Saturdays at the library are given a free day during the week and since we were closed all week, we couldn’t schedule anyone for Saturday.

Hours of planning and preparation preceded the closure. The publicity effort was monumental and in every format. The Horizon automated system was set so that no books would be due and no fines would accrue during the closure. Our efforts paid off, and the week’s closure went very smoothly with few complaints. Library patrons welcomed the staff back and thanked them for taking unpaid leave in order to help meet the library budget shortfall. From our experience, we learned that

  1. A week, even a historically low-volume week, is probably too long to close down.
  2. Even though no books are due and fines do not accrue, people leaving town want to get their books returned and object to book returns being closed.
  3. We can keep the website and catalog open without disastrous affects when we re-open.

So this fiscal year we spread the whopping eight days of furlough throughout the year. We scheduled a system upgrade for two days during a traditionally low-volume week at the end of August, closed the library and furloughed the staff. We scheduled the remaining six days around holidays. This simplifies the publicity for all and usually lands them on days the libraries are less heavily used. This week we will be closed on Saturday, Christmas Day, Thursday and Friday, the scheduled City of Des Moines holidays, and Wednesday as a furlough day. Next week will be closed Saturday, New Year’s Day, Friday, the scheduled City of Des Moines holiday, and Thursday as a furlough day.

We have arranged to have the book returns emptied so that they can remain open during the days we are closed. A polite message on the website will alert web users to the closure and warn that items placed on hold may not be pulled quite as quickly as normal.

We have furloughs down to a science but I hope we have seen the last of them. For now, I say thank you to Des Moines Public Library patrons for their almost-universal understanding. Most of all a huge thank you is in order for library employees who have taken unpaid leave in order to avoid layoffs and preserve other library hours and services.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Matching Furloughs with Library Usage

  1. DSMLibraryUser

    I know this message is being posted many months after the fact, but I hope it will still be read.

    I think this way of handling the days off is much better than the way things were handled in 2009. In particular, I didn’t see any logical reason for shutting down the website in 2009. Keeping the website up so that we can search for books that we want to check out when the library re-opens is appreciated.

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