City News

Salem Public Library to close Sunday, reduce hours starting in January

The Salem Public Library will close on Sundays starting in January and cut evening hours during the week, citing a lack of staffing and anticipated budget cuts in the next few years. 

The closure means residents will have reduced access to the internet, library programs and a free public place to spend time in the evenings. In a memo to the city council, department leaders said the change will improve staff retention.

The main branch will close on Sundays and close two hours earlier, at 6 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday and an hour earlier, at 5 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays. It would be a 27% reduction from 52 hours open a week to 38, according to a chart of the changes

The west Salem branch will see even deeper cuts, a reduction from 30 hours a week to 10. Currently open five days a week, the branch will soon only be open two days a week, from 1 – 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

The reduced hours will start on January 2, according to a staff report from Scott Archer, deputy city manager. 

“The decision to reduce operating hours was not taken lightly. Department and Library leadership considered the time periods and days that the library is most utilized and ensures provision of weekend hours at both locations for maximum accessibility,” Archer said in the report. “Our primary goal remains to continue serving our community with excellence while navigating the limitations imposed by our current and anticipated fiscal reality.”

The January reductions don’t reflect budget cuts, which will be up to the budget committee which meets next year, Archer said. The library’s annual budget is $6 million this year.

Cuts at the library were a central discussion point for city leaders as they put forward a payroll tax intended to address a city budget deficit earlier this year. Voters overwhelmingly rejected it on Nov. 7. 

City manager Keith Stahley’s initial proposal for money-saving cuts included closing the West Salem branch entirely along with reducing hours at the main branch. 

The West Salem branch saw over 24,000 visitors last year and over 6,000 checkouts, and provides internet connection for residents and access to services for people who wouldn’t have access otherwise, the ward’s city councilor Micki Varney told Salem Reporter in September. At its current operating hours, the branch costs around $700,000 a year.

The cuts come less than a year after the library returned to pre-pandemic hours in May. Since reopening to the public in the fall of 2021, library hours had been reduced due to short staffing.

Kathy Knock, president of AFSCME Local 2067 which represents Salem’s library workers, said that staff have struggled since the return to hours and have been asking that hours be cut so they can work within their means.

Knock said that staff often scramble between shelving books and manning the front desk.

“This will at least allow some breathing room for the staff when they’re at work,” she said.

Archer’s staff report said for several months, library management has chosen not to fill staff positions as they became vacant due to retirements and resignations in anticipation of upcoming budget cuts.

The library had seven staff vacancies in October, according to a city list. They include the city librarian, two librarians, three library assistants and a supervisor. That’s out of 44 budgeted positions.

The current vacancies are estimated to result in $1.07 million in wage savings in the current budget and will lessen the impact of potential future layoffs if cuts happen, Archer said in a Thursday email to Salem Reporter.

Knock said that staff couldn’t fill the duties the vacancies left at the current operational hours. The cuts will allow for more consistent shifts and let employees get more work done.

“We’re sad that we’re at this point, but happy that the city recognizes the needs of employees,” she said. “Hopefully the community will figure out what their (funding) priorities are.”

Archer said the reductions will decrease staff turnover and burnout by allowing more staff to work on each shift. The library saw a 62% increase in callouts this year compared to the prior year, he said.

The report will be presented to the Salem City Council during their Monday, Dec. 10, meeting, but the council will not vote on the reduction.

Interim City Librarian Bridget Esqueda thanked the community for their support and understanding, in an email to Salem Reporter.

“Our commitment to our patrons is unwavering and these revised hours will continue to offer access to our resources, collections, and spaces while operating within our current resources,” she said. “We will continue to offer a welcoming, inclusive community space that prioritizes learning, discovery, and well-being for all.”

Update: This article has been updated to include additional comments from Kathy Knock, Bridget Esqueda and Scott Archer.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-575-1251.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.