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Challenging chapter for Yorkville library

Library Director Michelle Pfister looks partially empty magazine shelf Yorkville Library Wednesday February 13 2013. The library has had cut

Library Director Michelle Pfister looks at a partially empty magazine shelf at the Yorkville Library on Wednesday, February 13, 2013. The library has had to cut some of its periodicals because of its budget. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 19, 2013 6:12AM

YORKVILLE – With four kids between the ages of 3 and 10, Tairi Kearns has used the Yorkville Public Library plenty of times.

And even though she didn’t know any specifics about the library’s budget situation, she said this week she has seen the result of its budget crunch firsthand.

“They used to have a lot more activities, I know that,” Kearns said.

Activities are just one area the library has cut, or is looking to make cuts. Also on the hit list are data bases, maintenance, magazine subscriptions, computer maintenance and, yes, even books.

“Did you see our dirt?” said Michelle Pfister, library director, just inside the library door.

Pfister was pointing to dirt on the ceiling, but also to the carpets and windows, neither of which have been washed in three years.

“If we had regular maintenance, it wouldn’t be like that. This is a public building, it really should be kept up,” she said.

Pfister and Library Board Vice President Barb Johnson approached the City Council this week to talk about the budgetary crisis.

Johnson said she and other board members would return to the City Council Feb. 26 with more specific numbers about what the library budget would be. But looking at some preliminary numbers, library officials are looking at about $30,000 less than the current $817,634 budget.

“Right now, it was important to let them (the City Council) know that we’re in trouble,” she said.

Johnson said in 2009, the library budgeted $64,000 for new books. For the current 2013 fiscal year, the library so far has spent a little over $10,000 on new books. And facing an overall budget that could be at least $30,000 less for the 2014 fiscal year, the book line item could be down to zero, Johnson said.

“I’ve been on the board for years, through the good times and the bad times, and this is really the bad times,” she told the council.

Not that the library has bought no books. The library gets a development impact fee, which can go toward purchase of books. But revenue from that fee has dwindled as Yorkville’s development fell off the cliff in recent years.

So far for the 2013 fiscal year, the library has received $27,400 in development fees, which actually is almost $11,000 more than they expected to get. But that is basically the library’s entire capital fund. At the top of the second floor of the library is a shelf labeled “New Books” that stands about half full.

The main reason for the crisis is the assessed value in Yorkville’s city limits that has been declining the past several years. The library is funded by its own tax levy, which has been at its maximum for a while.

Pfister pointed out that if the city could find $30,000 from its budget to put into the library, it would only stave off further cuts, keeping the status quo. It would not “bring everything back to where it was before.”

The library has cut its hours of operation by more than 20 hours a week, including closing entirely on Sundays. Besides the cut in books, it has cut 31 magazine subscriptions, including such one-time staples as Sports Illustrated and Boy’s Life.

To show how things have been going, the library cut such weekly newsmagazines as Forbes, U.S. News and World Report and Time, choosing to keep only one: Newsweek. Then Newsweek ceased its print product on Jan. 31.

Pfister pointed out the library has done other things, too, to either raise revenue or cut costs. She said they have not so much cut programs as they have started charging for some of them. The same is true with DVD rentals, for which the library now charges $1 a day. And the library upped its cost for rental of the meeting room, for non-profit organizations only, from $40 to $50 for three hours.

All landscaping is now done either by Friends of the Library volunteers or the city, when it can. The same is true with electrical work, such as changing light bulbs.

Pfister and Johnson realize that the city has its own budgetary problems, too. They might not be able to find any money for the library, a definite possibility as city officials found out this week during a presentation that began the budget process.

“We’ve worked very well with the city,” Pfister said. “It’s not their fault; it’s just the times.”

Mayor Gary Golinski pointed out the city has just begun its budget process, and said “your guess is as good as mine” as to whether the City Council will find money for the library.

“We’ll have to see how budget discussions go over the next month,” Golinski said. “It’s just a matter of prioritizing all of the city’s needs with a finite amount of resources.”

Some have said the library is an outmoded institution in the Internet age. But Kearns said through the clients at her Yorkville business, she knows plenty of people who use the library for the modern technology it offers.

“I know a lot of people who use the data bases, who count on it,” she said. “That’s especially if they have more than one kid and only one computer.”

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