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Char-Meck Library Throws Money At Conundrum Of Confusion

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With a twist of ironic timing, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library officials have tagged April Fool’s Day to launch expanded hours at a dozen community branch libraries where services had shrunk and positions were cut in response to previous budgetary reductions.

The move, which will cost about $1.2 million drawn from the library system’s current budget, is in response to community feedback that showed a jumbled mix of scheduling hours at various library locations was confusing customers and hampering operational effectiveness, said Cordelia Anderson, marketing and communications director for Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. The goal, she said, is to expand hours and simplify them.

In that vein, beginning April 1, a dozen community libraries will expand service to include a full fifth day: Hickory Grove, Mountain Island, Myers Park, Plaza Midwood, Scaleybark, Steele Creek, Sugar Creek, West Boulevard, Matthews, Davidson, Cornelius, and Mint Hill.

Most of the locations that will be expanding hours are currently closed on Mondays, and shut their doors at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. With the new hours, they will be open Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The new influx of funding will also allow the library system to hire 28 full-time employees and three part-time staffers.

“The most consistent feedback we hear from customers is that they want more library hours, and that our current library hours are confusing,” said Director of Libraries David Singleton. “The new hours will help improve access and normalize our schedule.”

On the surface, the move sounds rational enough; Char-Meck libraries took one of the bigger hits when county coffers dried up four years ago. The library system saw nearly a third of its budget cut, about $10 million; four branches were shuttered; staff layoffs were spread across the board, and operational hours and programs were reduced at myriad branches.

Significant cuts, to be sure, certainly by GovCo standards; but while wholesale horrors were predicted in the wake of the reductions, there has been little widespread community tumult, turmoil or upheaval in evidence.

It’s understandable that some library patrons are upset at being inconvenienced when they find their favorite branch closed on a particular day, or maybe even slightly confused with some of the odd scheduling hours. But here’s a tip: if you know your favorite library is going to be closed on Mondays, and has been for the last few years, make a note of it and don’t visit the library on Mondays. If you know your favorite branch is going to close at 7 p.m., and has for the last few years been closing at 7 p.m., make a note of it and plan to visit – wait for it… before 7 p.m.

If conundrums of confusion is what the library system is hoping to solve for its patrons, expanding hours at this point might be entirely counterproductive. Consider the current state of the county budget, which has officials already pondering how to handle upwards of $50 million in potential cuts in response to a looming redo of the county’s grossly flawed 2011 property revaluation.

Anybody think the library system would escape the budget ax when commissioners start honing the blade? Anybody think that the library system should? And what happens when the ax falls? Reduced library hours? Staff layoffs? Shuttered branches?

How’s that for confusing library customers, after you’ve just assured them their favorite branches will now be open one more day a week and operating hours have stabilized?

Maybe there’s valid reason for the library system choosing April Fool’s Day to launch their expanded hours.

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