Washington State Library Reduces Service Hours

In-person service hours at the main Washington State Library in Tumwater will be reduced by four hours a day, effective June 16, as the service-and-research institution grapples with continuing significant budget challenges, State Librarian Rand Simmons said Monday. The Library at 6880 Capitol Blvd. in Tumwater traditionally has been open to the public Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.  But like a number of other states facing budget difficulties, the State Library faces an immediate shortfall that must be addressed through layoffs and fewer direct service hours, Simmons said.  

The dedicated fund that finances Library operations now projects a potential shortfall of more than $1 million, due primarily to an unexpected slump in the number of recording fees collected by county auditors. This is on top of a $664,000 budget cut that was required at the beginning of the biennium, following a decade budget and staff reductions.

Beginning June 16, the central Library will be open daily from noon to 5 p.m. for walk-in patrons.  Chat and email help will still be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.  

“The State Library staff have become more efficient in their operations over the past 10 years, providing the same general level of services while reducing our employee count by 42 percent,” said Secretary of State Kim Wyman, whose office hosts the Library. “We have reached the point where we must reduce our in-person hours at the central library, at least temporarily, because of additional staff cuts.”

The shorter hours in Tumwater do not affect the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library in Seattle or the institutional libraries at state hospitals and corrections centers. Grants to local libraries, a central role of the Washington State Library, will be maintained, and the State Library-Microsoft IT Academy will not be affected.

“The decision to reduce service hours is something that pains us very much – librarians are absolutely passionate about serving patrons directly, either in person or online or over the phone,” Wyman said. “That service ethic will not diminish one bit, but the hours we’re open will be fewer, sadly.”

Instead of 45 hours of in-person service each week, it will be 25 hours.

Wyman said the action reflects continuing challenges of sustaining the Library, which is the oldest cultural institution in Washington, dating to 1853, when the first territorial governor, Isaac Stevens, and Congress created it with books shipped around the Horn. The Library was assigned to the Secretary of State by the Legislature about a decade ago, and was formerly a separate agency.

“The State Library has been a core service of government for 160 years, but for some years now, it has been a struggle to survive. In the past decade, state support has dropped by 42 percent and staff levels have shrunk from 158 to 63 today.

Wyman acknowledged that recent library usage around the country is turning to online access, rather than solely relying on a brick-and-mortar library building.  The State Library is committed to service excellence to all customers, whether online or in-person, and is working to make more of its collections available online, she said.

“We are busy transforming the State Library information services, meeting people where they live,” Wyman said. “As the old saying goes, crisis meets opportunity. We intend to be the model Library of the 21st Century.”

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Background: The current situation is that for the 2013-15 biennium, the Library was moved from the General Fund into the dedicated account legislators previously created for funding construction of a new state Heritage Center to house the Library and state Archives.  The HC account was over $660,000 shy of meeting the current-level funding of the Library, and so cutbacks were ordered last year.

The appropriation from the entire Heritage Center capital account was supposed to cover the remainder of the Library’s state funding, but one of the account’s main sources, filing fees collected by county auditors on real estate transactions and other services, are falling short of projections.

The housing market and the number of transactions have declined significantly in Washington and nationally in recent months, due largely to a reduction in refinancing of mortgages. If the trend line continues, Library funding could face a shortfall of over $1 million below the authorized spending level of about $9 million.

Secretary Wyman is taking action at this time to bring the budget back into balance for the remainder of the biennium, including the two latest reductions in FTEs. She will urge the Legislature to create stable funding for this core service to the people of Washington.