Kanawha County Public Libraries has used reserve funds to hire workers to partly fill the staff shortages that occurred after losing $3 million in annual funding last year.
At Monday’s board meeting, Library Director Alan Engelbert said the library has hired about 11 new employees, including two new children’s librarians, since the board voted to fund 13 positions with money from reserves.
“Assuming that all of the people we hire we retain, and we want them to stay, we are in a better position than we were a few weeks ago,” he said.
About 40 positions among the library’s 12 branches had become vacant through attrition since the library lost 40 percent of its operating budget last year, according to Mike Albert, outgoing board president.
The library lost $3 million in annual funding after the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of Kanawha County schools, declaring that school systems no longer have to financially support county libraries.
“People were seeing the handwriting on the wall and just walking out the door,” Albert said.
“Our thinking was rather than allow the library to just sort of wither on the vine, in the meantime we would dip into these reserves and use them for the purpose they were accumulated, which is to help us over rough spots.”
The library is aiming to restore children’s department hours by Sept. 1, after new employees have gone through training.
After the Supreme Court decision, the library had to reduce hours in the children’s department and at the Sissonville branch, as well as close the technology center.
The Sissonville branch restored hours last month.
The library has also had to deal with “spot outages” when employees go on vacation or take sick time, according to Engelbert.
“It has been limited to the point that if anything happens, we have operational difficulties,” he said.
Because the library is not a levying body, the school board is hosting a $3 million excess levy on the library’s behalf to make up for lost funds.
Engelbert told board members the library is staying in regular contact with the county clerk’s office and the Board of Education to ensure deadlines are met.
“We’re in a position of trying to make sure these steps take place, but we can’t necessarily implement them ourselves,” Engelbert said.
The board also held its election of officers Monday.
The new officers are Cheryl Morgan, president; Jennifer Pauer, first vice-president; Elizabeth Lord, second vice-president; Engelbert, secretary/treasurer.
Albert said he will remain an active member of the board.
He said he chose not to run again because of the demands of his full-time job.
“It’s been a labor of love,” he said. “I have no doubt they’ll do a wonderful job.”
Reach Erin Beck