Library set for 40 hours

Ashland Public Library will open its doors to the public for the first time since April on Wednesday at 10 a.m. A few familiar faces will be missing and some still aren't pleased with the decision to use a private company to run the system, but most are just excited about the prospect of emptier shelves as books are again checked out for use.

"The shelves are completely full, so there's a great selection of books," said Amy Blossom, who will serve as branch manager under Library Systems Services, known as LSSI.

Blossom said she was a little concerned that the intergovernmental agreement required to ensure Ashland's branch is open the full 40 hours would not be signed before opening day because of busy county and city schedules, but it was approved a full week in advance at the city council meeting last Tuesday.

Library levy funds bumped the number of hours the library will be open from 24 to 40, as well as outreach services and additional staff.

For the first time, the library will be open on Sunday, from noon to 4 p.m.

"I'm very happy we're getting the library back open, and I'm very happy we came to an agreement with the county to get us up to 40 hours a week and the extra services we wanted," said City Councilor Russ Silbiger, who voted to approve the agreement last week.

Even Councilor Eric Navickas, the lone dissenter on the vote, said he would be glad to see the libraries open.

"I'd much rather see our library kept within the public sector, and I hope in the future we will go back to the fully public library system," he said. "I am excited. At least we'll have access to the materials in our library system."

Under the contract signed between the city and the county, Ashland will pay a maximum of $216,664 for eight months of added services from November through June 2008, when the fiscal year ends. The payments jumps to $334,746 next July and will cover services through June 2009.

These totals will cover not only additional open hours, but a higher level of service, such as an additional librarian with a master's degree and senior outreach services that Ashland required, said County Administrator Danny Jordan who signed the contract.

Before the additional services were added, LSSI estimated that Ashland's branch would require $60,000 for every four-hour block to operate annually, or $360,000 total per year. Only Medford has a higher four-hour cost at $80,000.

The four-hour costs vary between different branches depending on factors such as size of the community, circulation and square footage of the building, Jordan said.

Overall, Jordan said he was happy with the progress LSSI has made so far.

"They hired our former employees, so I'm very pleased that they did that," he said. "They hired them in different configurations and different jobs, so in terms of how they operate, we'll have to wait and see."

Most of the former Ashland library staff will be returning, Blossom said, although the total number of employees is fewer than before. There will be a total of 13 employees, three of whom will work full-time, she said.

Sgt. Malcus Williams, the Ashland Police officer who led children out of the library when it closed last April after reading them one last story, will also return to read another story on Wednesday if his schedule allows.

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