MERIDEN — The public library’s Bookmobile will cease operating after Saturday due to a hiring freeze recently put in place, but the library is hopeful the mobile library will be running again early next year.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati instituted the hiring freeze when he cut $48,000 from the library’s budget with one of his line-item vetoes to the City Counci’s budget last month. The money would have been spent to fill two positions, which will become vacant this month with the retirement and resignation of two librarians.
Scarpati’s cut means one of the positions, head of child services, will not be filled until early January and the other vacancy, a full-time librarian position, won’t be filled until July.
With the vacancies, library director Karen Roesler said she needs to pull staff away from the Bookmobile to perform other duties, including covering public service desks. Roesler said she needed to end Bookmobile services to avoid reducing library hours.
“Although not ideal, taking staff off the Bookmobile to cover the public service desks is the least disruptive and provides the best service to the greatest number of people over the course of a week,” Roesler wrote in a post on the library’s Facebook page. “The decision is the result of the loss of actual bodies, not directly the loss of money. The Bookmobile had approximately 10,000 visitors last year. The Library had over 200,000.”
The Bookmobile’s last event will be the weekly farmer’s market at the Meriden Green on Saturday morning, Roesler said. The library is hopeful the Bookmobile will be running again in early 2019 after it is able to fill the Head of Child Services position.
“We want to assure you that this is just a ‘bump in the road’” for the Bookmobile, Roesler said.
The Bookmobile provides library services to several institutions, including schools, daycare centers, nursery schools, nursing homes, neighborhoods and businesses.
Roesler said the Bookmobile helps bring the library to people who aren’t able to visit. It carries a variety from the library’s collection, including books for children, young adults, and adults, large-print books, best-sellers, and books in Spanish.
In coming up with his line-item vetoes, Scarpati said he explored not filling vacancies in different departments as a way to save money without impacting current services.
Scarpati said he wasn’t aware his cut would result in the Bookmobile shutting down at the time he issued his vetoes. He reached out to Roesler in August to inquire about the library’s vacant positions and he later informed Roesler on Aug. 21 about the cut and hiring freeze in an email.
Roesler told Scarpati in an email on Aug. 21 that she understood Scarpati’s decision, but said she “will have to reduce some hours for the Bookmobile and perhaps Thursday nights” as a result of the cut. She went on to say in the email that, “I absolutely hate not being available to the public and assure you I will reduce services only as necessary and not to be punitive.”
Scarpati said he was “as surprised as the rest of the community” to learn of the Bookmobile would be temporarily halted because Roesler indicated it would only have reduced hours when he made the cut.
Scarpati’s vetoes cut a total of $570,000 from the council’s budget. The council and mayor were forced to take another look at the budget after 6,000 voters in July rejected the council’s original budget because they felt the tax rate was too high.
Roesler called the Bookmobile a “great community asset” and said the library was hoping to “find ways to increase Bookmobile service” until the recent cuts based on feedback it gathered from focus groups and online surveys.
“We were hoping to start working on that goal this year, but the timing of the resignations and the push for reduced spending will delay it for now,” Roesler wrote on Facebook. “The support for the Bookmobile shown on this social media platform means that we were on the right path in planning for enhanced service in the future.”
Roesler said the library plans to “help the institutions that the Bookmobile visits and have already spoken with the childcare centers to discuss preparing classroom collections for their use and offering other ways to assist teachers if possible.”
Roesler said some people have reached out volunteering to operate the Bookmobile for free, but she said only city employees can operate the Bookmobile because it’s a city-owned and insured vehicle. The library isn’t able to accept community donations either, Roesler said, because donations can’t fund salaries.
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