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Library chief squeezes union workers to add Saturday hours

Brooklyn Daily

The Brooklyn Public Library will restore weekend hours at more than half of its branches this September thanks to a rule change that will make union employees do basic work when the library’s actually open, not during overtime.

The number of branches that are closed on Saturdays will drop from 30 to 17 under the library’s plan to conduct administrative tasks such as collecting reserved items for pickup and shelving books during public hours. After the changes take affect, 32 of the library’s 60 branches will be open six days a week.

“We are very excited to offer increased hours to our patrons at a time when they need and are using our community libraries at record levels,” said Linda Johnson, the system’s new executive director.

Earlier this year, Johnson scrambled to streamline services when the mayor’s budget threatened to chop more than $20 million from its $82-million allocation to Brooklyn’s library system. The city restored all but $1 million of the funding, but the threat of a cut encouraged library executives to reorganize the work schedules.

Richard Reyes-Gavilan, director of the Central Library branch at Grand Army Plaza, said that library officials implemented new technologies over the past five years — including online fine payments and an automated reservation system — but didn’t bring their operations up to speed until Johnson ordered a review amid this year’s budget threats.

“Could this have been done sooner?” Reyes-Gavilan said. “Possibly, but it wasn’t. Since the economy went south, our focus was on staying alive.”

Last year, the nation’s fifth-largest library system dramatically cut weekend branch hours, choosing to retain union employees instead of retaining Saturday hours. And in 2009, the library cut Sunday service altogether because employees got time-and-a-half under union contracts.

Johnson’s reworked schedules won’t bring back any Sunday hours, but will add an average of eight hours to branch schedules beginning on Sept 10.

Eileen Muller, president of the Brooklyn library workers’ union, Local 1482, said that the new hours will give staff less time to prepare programs and make it more difficult for custodians to keep branches clean.

“It would be easier for the staff if they had that extra time in morning,” said Muller. “Unfortunately, the library is trying to make light of the work we have to do behind the scenes.”

She added that library employees who come in prior to opening don’t make overtime pay, but supervisors can rework schedules based on workload.

Cardholders will now be able to visit many more branches on Saturdays, including Williamsburg, Flatbush, Kensington and Dyker, from 10 am to 5 pm.

And other libraries that were closed on Mondays will be open from 10 am to 6 pm, including the Canarsie, Carroll Gardens, Clinton Hill, and Windsor Terrace branches.

To view this fall’s expanded hours, visit www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org.

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