Guilderland library proposes $4M budget for next year, has transformed services

— Photo from Luanne Nicholson

Tulips bloom in front of the Guilderland Public Library. “They were planted last fall as a surprise to patrons and staff,” said the library’s director, Timothy Wiles. But, due to the coronavirus shutdown, when they bloomed in the spring, the building was closed so the patrons and staff didn’t see them.

GUILDERLAND — In a budget that was drafted before the coronavirus shutdown, the Guilderland library is proposing a $4 million spending plan for next year.

Residents of the Guilderland Central School district will vote through mail-in ballots that must be returned by June 9.

Since the library shut on March 13, because of restrictions meant to stem the spread of the coronavirus, there’s been an exponential increase in people using electronic materials, said the library’s director, Timothy Wiles.

“We’ve circulated 13,000 items since March 13,” said Wiles on Friday, which is at least five times more electronic materials than in the same time period last year.

“People are learning a new way to access books and movies,” he said. Audio books are leading the way and Wiles said he has started listening to them himself as he walks his dog, rides his bike, or grocery shops.

Before the coronavirus shutdown, the library typically circulated 40,000 to 50,000 physical items a month; this also included items from its Library of Things — ranging from folding tables to cake pans.

Wiles anticipates those numbers won’t be made up even if patrons flock to the library once it reopens.

During the shutdown, 579 new library cards have been accessed online, Wiles said on Friday. The library has roughly 13,000 to 14,000 active cardholders, that is, people who have used the library in the last three years.

The town of Guilderland, which makes up the lion’s share of the library’s territory, has a population of about 35,000.

“We’re going to have to feel our way through …,” said Wiles of how the library will function once restrictions are lifted. “Nobody knows if patrons will come back.”

He went on, “We’re planning for all eventualities.” Crediting Luanne Nicholson, the library’s public information officer, with the thought, Wiles said, “We have been challenged to not only reinvent what we do for an online platform, but innovate at the same time.”

He gave as an example the library’s move to producing everything from story times to cookbook club meetings on video.

“On March 13, I would have been hard pressed to find anyone who could make a quality broadcast video,” said Wiles, but now that has become routine for staff members. He gave the example of Elisabeth Smith who makes you-can-build-it videos from her home for kids to watch.

A lot of Guilderland’s librarians have experience as teachers or are parents, Wiles said, which helps with these efforts. He called the librarians’ translation of their work to an online platform “one of the coolest things I’ve seen in my 31 years in the profession.”

Wiles anticipates there will be no public events at the library for the next several months but says events like Trivia Night, which used to attract 80 or 90 people to the Helderberberg Room of the library are now getting 60 to 70 participants online.

“At the same time,” Wiles said, “we’re cognizant of everyone staring at a screen all day long.” So the library will shortly be offering a dial-a-story or dial-a-poem service where people can call on their telephones to listen to recordings.

Meanwhile, the library’s $8 million capital project, passed by voters last May, is progressing on time and on budget, Wiles said. Staff has continued to work with the architects through virtual meetings, he said.

“We intend to go to bid in October,” said Wiles. “Then we’re dependent on the industry and the weather.” The first step will be an addition on the east end of the current building to house children’s services.

The library will stay open through most of the renovations, said Wiles, with brief closures for new restrooms and a café since the concrete slab the library was built on — the 1992 building has no basement — will have to be trenched to make way for water lines for those projects.

In theory, Wiles said, the project should be completed by the summer of 2022. He added, “There are so many variables in that.”



In addition to voting on the budget, Guilderland school district residents will also be voting on three library trustees. The unpaid posts carry five-year terms. Three incumbents — Herb Hennings, Mark Keeling, and Phil Metzger — are running to keep their seats. They are being challenged by Marcia Alazraki and Richard Rubin.

The library follows the school-district boundaries in parts of four towns — Guilderland, Bethlehem, New Scotland, and Knox — but its elected board, which submits its own budget and has the power to levy taxes, is independent of the school district.

About a third of the proposed $4,080,178 spending plan is for salaries and benefits: $2,964,400. The library has 34 full-time and 21 part-time workers, Wiles said.

“The vast majority are CSEA members,” he said of the Civil Service Employees Association. The eight non-union members work in information technology or administration and deal with confidential information related to salaries and benefits, Wiles said.

On Thursday night, the trustees finalized contracts with the eight non-union members, Wiles said. Across-the-board raises for all the library’s employees range from 2.75 to 3 percent, Wiles said.

The next biggest expenditure is for library materials, which remains flat at $395,000. About 80 percent of that is for physical materials like books and magazines while the remaining 20 percent is for electronic acquisitions, Wiles said. 

He noted that, even prior to the pandemic, use of electronics was growing; it was up 28 percent three years ago, up another 53 percent two years ago, and then last year was up 23 percent, Wiles said. Use of physical materials has remained essentially flat, he said.

Most other budget lines — utilities, equipment, conferences and travel, hardware and software — have remained within several thousand dollars of last year’s budget. One notable exception is in large reductions for printing and professional services that were tied to the building project.

On the revenue said, all but $84,200 comes through the property tax levy. That includes $30,700 in fines, $20,000 in interest, and $25,000 from book sales.

Wiles said one of the things he is proudest of is the reduction in fees for photocopying, meaning the library plans to get $4,500 next year instead of this year’s $9,000 for those fees.

Black-and-white copies that used to cost patrons 20 cents will now cost 10 cents while color copies that used to cost 50 cents will cost 25 cents. Wiles, who began leading the library six years ago, said the inherited system was meant to subsidize the photocopying done by staff members.

“The person should be paying for what they’re using,” Wiles said, citing high school students and seniors who typically use the service.

The library gets very little state or federal funding — it’s not even reflected in the budget document — so Wiles says that whatever shortfalls occur at those levels because of the pandemic won’t affect the library’s budget.

Through federal Local Library Services Aid, Guilderland, as a school-district library, typically gets $10,000 per year, Wiles said. The Upper Hudson Library System, of which Guilderland is a part, has said to expect a 2.6-percent reduction in that, Wiles said, and he expects it could yet be reduced further.

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