MONTEREY — The Monterey Public Library is launching a capital campaign to replenish materials that were zeroed out by the city’s budget crisis as well as preparing for technology upgrades that will allow the library to operate with fewer people.
Three people representing the three pillars of the library — operations, fundraising and oversight — will give their perspectives Thursday at 4 p.m. in a virtual presentation on what the library faced in 2020 and where it is headed in the future. People interested in viewing the presentation can register at https://montereypl.libcal.com/event/7471305.
City revenue from sales and hotel taxes was decimated from the pandemic, forcing it to reduce its general fund budget from $82 million to $68 million in a matter of months. Elected officials directed city staff to make public safety the top priority.
The library, California’s first library, was hit hard, as were museums, the sports center and recreational services. Some 94% of library funding comes from the city’s general fund, said Inga Waite, the city’s library and museums director and one of the speakers Thursday.
The result: the library budget was cut by 65% and was forced to lay off 80% of its staff. Money for books and other materials were zeroed out. Upgrades were put on hold.
“The doors were closed but there was never a time we weren’t delivering services; just not inside,” Waite said. “We’re grateful for the support from the community. Our library is being heavily used, averaging 250 people a day borrowing over 500 items a day.”
Organizers hope the fundraising campaign — scheduled to run about 18 months — will be able to help fill the holes left by the city’s fiscal crisis. Marsha Moroh, the chair of the library’s Board of Trustees and also a speaker at Thursday’s virtual event, said while the crisis is “a terrible thing, it’s also an opportunity to do things differently.
“We are going to see what it takes to run a skeletal operation,” she said.
Waite, Moroh and Diane de Lorimier, president of the Monterey Public Library Friends and Foundation and the third speaker, cited several projects the fundraising campaign will support.
The library’s Bookmobile is sitting idle. It is viewed as an integral part of outreach for residents such as seniors who are in their homes and perhaps are unable to physically check out books, or people who live in low-income communities that may not have access to the library.
“It’s important in the community that we get the bookmobile back on the road,” de Lorimier said. “We had to park it as soon as the pandemic hit and right now we have no money to operate it.”
A second goal is to raise funds for new technology. Waite described one need is to implement radio frequency identification technology, or RFID, that can be installed in return bins. RFID can read a signal on the book, relay it to the library’s computer system and automatically check the book back in.
Another technology would allow library patrons to use their smartphones to scan a book’s barcode and automatically check it out. Both technologies would allow the library to operate with a leaner staff.
“It’s been very difficult,” said Moroh, who had just take over as chairperson when the budget cuts hit. “We are all doing the best we can, and the city has been very understanding. We all know it will be a tough budget climate for the foreseeable future. We all are going to have to do with less.”
Contributed by local news sources