Gilbert's budget crunch will leave the town's two libraries intact as hubs for residents to check out books and do online research, but it will eliminate nearly all the other programming and events patrons have come to expect.
The Southeast Regional Library will remain the place to go for free access to books, information and computers. But almost all of the classes, interest groups and events at the library will stop by the end of August.
A man looks for books at the Southeast Regional Library in Gilbert. July 21, 2009.
THOMAS BOGGAN, TRIBUNE
The library will no longer feature computer, job-seeking or English as a Second Language classes, book discussion groups or independent film series, all geared toward adults. Also gone will be "reluctant reader" classes for beginners,literary-themed dances and "battle of the books" events that reached thousands of children last year. College entrance exam preparations will also be axed.
"We had to look at things in terms of what do we want to be doing as a library, and the answer is we want to be providing materials," said Southeast Regional Library branch manager Andrew Chanse. Morning storytime readings for young children are the only library-sponsored programs expected to continue, Chanse said.
Similar programs at southern Gilbert's Perry Branch Library appear to be in jeopardy, as well. Officials at the Maricopa County Regional Library District, which runs both facilities, were under the impression early this week that an adult film series, knitting group and other extras could continue at Perry. But Town Manager George Pettit said Tuesday that wasn't the town's intent.
Pettit said offerings need to be consistent at the town-funded libraries. So if Perry was planning to hold additional programs, "well, we'll definitely have to get that clarified with the operator," Petit said.
Town Councilman Dave Crozier said he came away with the same message after the council decided to cut back on all library programming, rather than cut back on operating hours.
"I don't think it was ever the intent to say this was only going to affect the regional library," he said.
Councilwoman Linda Abbott said she thought the discussions had focused on Southeast simply because she didn't know there was any programming at Perry.
The library district runs both facilities under separate funding agreements with the town. Gilbert is required to take on a progressively larger share of funding under its contract with the county for Southeast Regional, which opened in 1999 on the southeast corner of Greenfield and Guadalupe roads. For the fiscal year that began July 1, the town's share went from 60 percent to 80 percent, but the town held its contribution steady at $1.6 million, forcing the library to cut its budget back by about $178,000, to $2 million.
Chanse said the library lost the equivalent of three and a half jobs with the program cuts, but those employees are being transferred to other county libraries.
Southeast Regional is the largest in the county library system, with a circulation last year of 2.16 million volumes, according to library district spokesman Nelson Mitchell.
The library's final summer reading program is just getting under way, he said, while he also has to plan for a future without it. "Having to plan and unplan at the same time is my biggest problem right now," he said.
The Perry branch opened two years ago on the campus of Perry High School, 1965 E. Queen Creek Road. It is a joint venture among the town, library district and Chandler Unified School District. It is reserved for student use from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. during the school year, which begins July 27. Last year's circulation was 476,000.
Perry branch manager Jennifer Miele said the library district would continue to move ahead with programming plans at Perry until it receives official word from the town it can't.
Those plans include moving the instructor who had taught 331 ESL students at Southeast last year to Perry. An existing adult book discussion class, Common Threads knitting group and an independent film series will continue and a genealogy class will be added, she said.
She said the book, knitting and film groups require little staff support.
"We used to sit there with them and guide them on how things should go, but now we just move chairs into a circle for them," she said. Refreshments are provided by the Friends of the Southeast Regional and Perry Libraries, a volunteer group.
Gilbert community services director Jim Norman, whose department budget includes the libraries, said Perry had so little programming that he did not think eliminating it would affect Perry. He had not heard yet of any plans to move the ESL classes to Perry.
"I don't know how they're going to pay for it, because Perry doesn't have the money for it in their budget," he said.
He said there could be other funding coming in to pay for things like the ESL classes.
"We would need to drill down a little deeper and find out who's really paying for them before we said we had a problem with it," Norman said.