PALM HARBOR – Director Lois Eannel is preparing to increase the professionalism and skill level of the staff at East Lake Community Library.
“You can have plenty of books and plenty of materials, but you really need people to make a library work,” she told the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency board Jan. 15.
In light of that, Eannel said she chooses to view the departure of a valuable part-time employee as an opportunity rather than a major loss. Trish Johnson, leaving in three weeks, has worked about 24 hours a week, in charge of reference and adult services and handling all the collection development materials.
“She does more than most three people put together and losing her puts a big hole here,” Eannel said. “But I thought perhaps this is the opportunity to hire a full time adult services librarian.”
Eannel requested approval from the board to move $6,000 from an underspent fund to purchase new audio books into personnel. The funds will help offset the extra costs of switching Johnson’s hourly pay to the equivalent full-time salary as well as the benefits that come with the position.
Eannel also recently laid off an administrative assistant in hopes of replacing that position with an administrative services coordinator. The new position would be a higher salary range – $12 to $16 per hour instead of $10 to $14 – and would help with finances and public relations that an assistant librarian might cover.
“This person would be handling a lot of the support tasks and responsibility to keep the library running efficiently,” Eannel explained.
With the new positions, personnel costs would make up about 50 percent of the library’s overall budget. Palm Harbor Library director Gene Coppola said that was about average for libraries in Pinellas County, but some of the members of the board expressed concern with that cost.
“I still think that we need to be careful with the new positions that we’re putting in there and how they’re going to effect her next year’s budget,” said board member Tom McKone.
McKone said he already had voiced his concern to Eannel and still supported her position, but nonetheless advised caution.
Roger Johnson, a member of East Lake library’s advisory board, said the library would likely see a slight increase in the property tax revenue it receives next year due to property values increasing by an estimated 3 percent.
“If everything falls into place, we can handle payroll next year,” he said.
McKone said it was important to keep in mind the cost of additional benefits for new employees as well.
“Don’t spend your 3 percent before you have it,” he said.
Eannel said she agreed with McKone’s assessment of the budget.
“At the same time, I need a professional-level staff,” she said. “If I can find someone like Trish for 24 hours, great. But they don’t exist.”
Board chair Rex Haslam also pointed out that since Eannel was a new library director some changes in the budget were expected as she learned how funds were spent throughout the year. In fact, Coppola, acting as an intern director after East Lake’s previous library director left, had prepared the budget before Eannel was hired.
Board member Elliott Stern asked if it was wise to lower the budget for alternative library materials if libraries were moving in the direction of electronic media. Eannel explained that the $12,000 budget line was only to purchase new audio books in CD or electronic form and did not include e-books, library databases or online magazines. So far, the library has spent only a few hundred dollars on audio books.
The board unanimously approved adding $6,000 to personnel. Eannel already is in the process of advertising for the two open positions.
For the children
Both libraries are in the process of augmenting their respective children’s areas. Eannel said she wants to renovate the space set aside for children by opening the space “to allow for greater visibility.”
The Friends of the East Lake Community Library will be funding the entire project. They had already received a bid of about $12,000 for the project, but are hoping to find a lower cost “more in line with what they had anticipated,” Eannel said.
Palm Harbor Library will be adding an innovative children’s art studio in the coming months. Coppola said the trend has been to add “do it yourself” space in libraries for adults.
The glass-enclosed, modular and flexible environment would accommodate 6 to 8 children, ideally in the higher elementary age range. Children would be able to paint, draw or sculpt, likely under the supervision of local artists. PHCSA board member Holly Bird, who is an artist, graphic designer and illustrator, has already volunteered along with others.
“This is something that we’re getting a lot of good feedback on,” Coppola said.
The library has already raised $6,000 for the project. Coppola said he hopes to have the space up and running by the end of April.