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Fewer Library Workers, But Services Still Available Online, says Director

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Floyd Council, director of the Birmingham Public Library speaks during a press conference addressing library services and furloughs of employees. (Sydney Melson, The Birmingham Times)
By Sydney Melson
The Birmingham Times 

Even with 158 workers placed on furlough, the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) can still provide the kind of services residents have been accustomed, but it will take “a little gusto,” said Floyd Council, executive director of the Library on Monday.

Council held a press conference at the downtown Central Library to address the furloughs and discuss the BPL’s Oct. 1 reopening.

Asked about attending to needs of patrons with a depleted staff, Council said, “we have to use what we got until we can get back what we want and we will not complain,” he said. “We will not side with politics . . . we are hopeful that at some time funding will be restored.”

The BPL said it will furlough 158 of 211 full and part-time library employees due to a city financial shortfall of $63 million caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin told board members in a private call last week that his recommended library budget for FY 2021 had been cut to $6.2 million, far less than last year’s $15.3 million budget and less than the $12.8 million in Woodfin’s initial FY 2021 budget proposal, according to birminghamwatch.org 

The library has already spent $2.6 million since the fiscal year started July 1, meaning it has $3.6 million left to spend between Oct. 1 and June 30.

The furloughs will be effective Sept. 25. Of the 158 furloughed employees, 91 are full-time and 67 are part-time employees

Many of the services that were offered when libraries were full staffed can now be offered virtually with the technology available, Council said.

“The great thing about librarians and technology is that we have the ability to do the same service deliverables without having to have the children here in the building,” Council said. “[A lot] of our programs have not stopped . . . we have a historic partnership with Birmingham City Schools . . . as they’ve made adjustments to schools to do programs virtually we’re tapping into those same spaces to offer the same programs.”     

He added that a number of the arts and crafts, cooking classes and holiday events that were offered can continue because “anywhere you have a phone, you have a library.”

Council announced the reopening of the central library on October 1 and said some services will be limited. “We must operate under best practices for COVID,” he said. “We will allow about 30-minute visits to the library and 45 minutes to an hour if you utilize public computers. The [BPL Board of Trustees] has to make a decision about max capacity… I would estimate somewhere between 25-50 percent of [normal capacity].”

One change is that children will probably not be congregating in library once it reopens, Council said.

“Public library spaces are not the place where you bring your children to drop them off unsupervised for long periods of time, thinking that this is a substitute to the schools being open,” he said, adding libraries are a “hot zone” for spreading COVID-19. 

Although the Library Board announced last week that Eastwood Branch Library will be permanently closed, the library board has not made a decision about closing any of the remaining 18 library locations. 

 BPL also announced that regional library curbside service will expand. The library began offering curbside pickup of new library materials in early June 2020. Since then, more than 18,400 books, DVDs and other items were checked out by patrons at the four regional libraries – Avondale, Five Points West, North Birmingham and Springville Road, it said.