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Expanded library hours, e-book selection in proposed county budget

After a successful year with Sunday operations at Washington County's R.H. Stafford Library, officials are proposing to continue the initiative next year and possibly into the future.

Top priorities in the 2014 county library budget include expanding the e-book collection and continuing Sunday hours during the school year at the county's busiest libraries.

"It was really seen as a pilot last year, by the way, and we feel that we've gotten very good results in the first 20 Sundays that we've been open," Library Director Pat Conley said of the 2013 operations in Woodbury.

All libraries were closed Sundays in 2012 due to budget cuts. Then in 2013, the Woodbury location was the only one in Washington County to reopen Sundays during the school year.

The 2014 library budget also proposes to reopen Cottage Grove's and Forest Lake's libraries on Sundays between Labor Day and Memorial Day.

The effort to continue Sunday hours come after the R.H. Stafford location saw nearly 11,000 visits, 19,000 items borrowed and almost 800 hours of public computer use, not including WiFi.

"We certainly got, in 20 Sundays, quite a bit of business," Conley said, though usage was not as robust as it was in 2011. "People took a while to realize we were open again."

Washington County Board Chairwoman Lisa Weik said with many residents still looking for jobs year-round, it would be beneficial to have all three locations open Sundays during the summer months, too.

"I think if we had the flagships open in the summer it would really help many different demographics within the county: job seekers, children, high school students, seniors," she said. "I worry about people who are still under employed or looking for jobs and we're closed on Sundays in the summer."

Weik referenced the recent countywide residential survey in which people said they'd like to see expanded library hours.

"We know that that truly is something that people are going to value," she said.

The question county staff is working to answer is: how much does it cost to staff and operate the three libraries on Sundays all year?

County officials were just beginning to hear 2014 budget presentations from all department heads over the past two weeks. The preliminary budget proposes a virtually flat levy at a 0.66 percent increase from last year.

Conley said staff will examine the costs of additional Sunday hours before county commissioners are set to adopt a preliminary levy in September and the final levy in December.

Weik said it will not necessarily mean increasing taxes beyond what's already being proposed.

"We may have internal savings right now in the budget where we can redirect revenue," she said. "I'm anxious to hear the presentations by all the other department heads to see what they're proposing."

So far the library budget includes a $100,000 one-time funding to purchase 3,000 new e-books, adding to the library's existing collection of 7,000.

Conley said publishers' e-book prices are on the rise, especially to public entities.

"E-books cost us much more and we do not get the deep discounts we get from publishers for hardback books," she said, noting that some books cost as much as five times the price of print copies.

Additionally, publisher restriction on certain books makes it difficult for libraries to bring them into their electronic inventory.

"You'll never see Harry Potter in the public library as an e-book until something happens to change their policy," Conley said of the book's publisher rules.

Commissioners will continue reviewing the 2014 budget department by department over the next few weeks before approving the final budget at the end of the year.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.