Results Reveal Polarized View of Sunday Closures
TELLURIDE – The Wilkinson Public Library board of trustees greeted the results of a much-publicized survey of library patrons and the general public on Thursday with praise for the data and how it was collected. But some board members said the findings were in many cases contradictory, presenting the board with continuing challenges as it begins drafting the library’s 2014 budget.
The board commissioned the survey from Hilary Taylor, of Hilary Taylor Consulting, to help establish priorities in a budget for next year that is projected to decrease by 15 percent from the year before. Adding to the library’s challenges, the board fired former Library Director Barb Brattin earlier this month.
Over 65 percent of respondents identified themselves as frequent library users (using library services daily or multiple times a week), with many saying they felt the library was a community center. Similarly, 63 percent pronounced themselves ‘very satisfied’ with library services and cited the library’s staff as one of Wilkinson’s best assets.
Maintaining an extensive collection of traditional materials for checkout was consistently ranked as one of the most important services offered at the library, earning 70 percent of respondents saying they were ‘very satisfied’ with the breadth of materials available, with 42 percent of respondents ranking the library’s collection as the top service the library should maintain when budgeting for 2014.
Three-hundred of 346 survey comments related to the Sunday closures, a decision that drew criticism when the library board decided to address a shrinking budget by eliminating Sunday operations in early 2013. Responding to public outcry, the board said that usage statistics showed that patronage on Sundays was considerably less than on the other six days, and that by closing on Sunday, the library could operate with fewer full-time staff without making drastic cuts in other services that have helped Wilkinson rank among the nation’s best public libraries.
The Sunday closures generated so much controversy that a Telluride community member mocked Wilkinson’s famed “Came for the Skiing, Stayed for the Library” bumper stickers by printing alternate stickers saying, “Came for the Skiing, Left Because the Library Closes on Sunday.”
The survey captured the divisiveness surrounding Sunday closures, with about half of the respondents saying the library should reopen on Sunday, and another half saying Sunday closures were a good way for the library to manage its tight budget.
Contradictions emerge as the data are more closely analyzed. While more than 52 percent of respondents said they use the library less since Wilkinson began closing on Sundays, nearly 61 percent said the library is open when they need it to be, and 41 percent said Sunday closures had no effect on their library usage.
Of the nearly 1,000 respondents, only 17 percent said Sunday was the best day to visit the library (supporting the board’s claim that patronage decreases dramatically on Sundays), while 51 percent agreed in a rank-order question that the library should reopen on Sundays in lieu of much-needed revenues.
Further illuminating the divisive nature of Sunday closures in the results, 48 percent agreed in a similar rank-order question with the notion of the library remaining closed at least one day a week to save money. The question did not specify a weekday.
In the same question, nearly 68 percent agreed that the library should cut costs by “[reducing] managerial and administrative hours and/or freeze or reduce compensation (wages, benefits),” even though one of Taylor’s main recommendations to the board was that the library should find ways to improve staff morale.
Taylor’s recommendation to open the library on Sundays drew criticism from board member Seth Cagin, who said, “I think the conclusions you’re drawing are a bit hasty.”
Cagin pointed to the respondents’ demographics: 63 percent of respondents are female, and nearly 28 percent are aged 60-plus (the largest participating age group), as additional grounds for skepticism. Cagin questioned the demographics, saying they likely do not represent the demographic makeup of all library users, even though nearly one-thousand respondents participated in the survey.
While the board echoed some of Cagin’s criticisms, they, along with Cagin, were generally positive about the survey, saying it was a good first step in gaining a better understanding of how people use Wilkinson’s services. The board said that the survey data, along with other data, would help them make budgetary decisions as they prepare the 2014 budget.
The library is currently seeking an interim director who will oversee library operations and could play a vital role in developing the 2014 budget. The library interviewed five applicants on Tuesday, with hopes of selecting an interim director as quickly as possible.
The trustees held a meeting Wednesday to discuss the interview process, meeting after the press deadline. For updates, visit www.watchnewspapers.com.
The survey results are available online (www.telluridelibrary.org), and hard copies are available by request at the library.
Library board member Seth Cagin is a co-publisher of The Watch. He did not contribute to this article.
Sadams@watchnewspapers.com or tweet @samuelcoyeadams