PITTSFIELD — Resident opposition to a City Council proposal to cut staff and hours at the Pittsfield Public Library has led councilors to backtrack and consider increasing the library’s budget.
Pittsfield differs from most communities in that its fiscal year follows the calendar year, so the council now reviews spending for every city department, most recently starting with the library.
When library manager Holly Williams first presented her budget to councillors, there were increases that she said more accurately reflected the cost of electricity, heating and other expenses, as well as a cost-of-living salary increase for staff members.
The proposed budget for the library was approximately $217,000, up more than 7.4% from $202,000.
She noted that city appropriations for the purchase of new books, audiobooks and other collectible materials had not increased since 2002.
Councilors questioned the need for the library to be open 43 hours a week, asked if it could operate as a not-for-profit instead and wondered if there could be savings from the closure the Saturday.
“It has nothing to do with you or how you run (the library),” Councilman Jason Hall said at a recent budget hearing. “I think that’s probably the lowest budget you can get with the way we operate now. But maybe we need to change the way we operate.
About 40 residents attended a council meeting on Tuesday and spoke in favor of the library. Several have said that the library at 110 Library St. was one of the reasons they moved to Pittsfield, and that the facility is one of the main reasons the city is attracting new residents.
The library was built in the early 1900s, with a $15,000 grant from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation, a $5,000 donation from the Estate of Robert Dobson, and $10,000 raised by residents. The building was extended in 2010.
The building, which features a unique central dome, was listed in 1983 on the National Register of Historic Places. The interior of the dome has a mural by Maine comedian Tim Sample titled “Reading, the Gateway to Imagination”.
In addition to its collection of books, audio, and video, the library offers a community meeting room, public computers, free Wi-Fi, and a variety of resident programs. It is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Residents said the free Wi-Fi is a valuable resource for those with unreliable internet. Many residents also said that Saturday hours are important to them because they work during the week and appreciate the opportunity to go to the library on Saturday with their family.
“I work full time here in Pittsfield and the (working) hours are the same as the library is open, so going on Saturdays – me and my son – makes all the difference,” said one resident.
Several advisers said on Tuesday that the discussion was not intended to criticize the library. Instead, advisors seek to bring a level of control to all departments. Councilwoman Lindsay Holmstrom later said she would like to see a proposal to extend library hours and increase funding.
“We’ve heard from many people that there may be opportunities to better align the hours” with those of working residents, Holmstrom said.
Councilors still have several weeks of budget reviews for city services, before a public hearing in December and final approval of the budget.
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