The Haliburton County Public Library may not have enough staff to keep branches running regularly, or open at all, in coming weeks.
In a letter to the community on Feb. 10, library board chairperson Sally Howson said “The Haliburton County Public Library (HCPL) is currently, like many businesses, experiencing staff shortages. This may result in the reduction in hours or closure at some branches on short notice.”
At a Feb. 9 board meeting, CEO Christopher Stephenson said the library had 16 staff when he assumed the role in 2021. Now there are 10.
“I just need to be honest: we don’t have enough people,” he said. Administration staff have begun training in order to fill service gaps.
He said the shortage is due to recent retirements, staff pursuing post-secondary education, and leaves of absence.
“These layers have put stress on the group, and that has repercussions when we don’t have a lot of on-call standing by,” Stephenson said.
Patrons have called to voice frustrations over curbside pickup services.
“People are really upset right now, and they’re upset at library workers and it’s unfortunate,” Stephenson told the board.
The library has requested County funding for two full-time positions and one parttime position in its 2022 budget.
“My focus on hiring is focused on reestablishing what we had years ago,” Stephenson said. His goal, he added, is to have locals staffing each library, which would cut down on travel costs associated with library workers travelling between branches.
The library board suggested checking the HCPL website for updates before going to a library branch.
“Please know that HCPL staff will continue to do their utmost to provide services in a safe manner,” Howson said.
Stephenson and Howson thanked library workers for their hard work and urged patrons to be patient.
Branches could be reviewed
County warden Liz Danielsen said the announcement about staffing shortages means the board needs to “talk about the number of branches we’ve got.”
She pointed to circulation levels in Highlands East, which are much lower than that of Dysart et al or Minden Hills.
“It was a challenge 12 years ago, people have dug in their heels and done the best they can,” she said. “We need to face the fact that something needs to give.”
With new methods of delivery available, such as the soon-to-launch book lockers in Dorset, Danielsen said there are options to consider, rather than eliminating services completely.
Fundraising committee restarts
A relatively small tax-paying population paired with a large service area poses challenges to HCPL funding levels.
The board discussed how restarting the library’s fundraising and advocacy committee could be a way to raise extra funds and partner with the Friends of the Haliburton County Public Library.
“We’ve got a budget that will get us through the year, if we get additional funds, that’s great,” said Danielsen.
The committee met in 2020, but it’s been dormant since. Howson suggested the first step might be creating terms of reference.
“This is not for the faint of heart, and we don’t have to expect that we’re going to raise $5 million in a couple of months,” she said.
Stephenson suggested the committee would work on a “strategic approach” to fundraising, possibly involving long-term and ongoing projects.
“From the libraries’ perspective, I think perhaps we would want to make a plan for different avenues of fundraising. I do have ideas so I can bring those,” he said.
Danielsen said a good first step might be publicizing areas the library could use help.
“I don’t see any harm in letting the public know there are financial challenges associated with the library system,” she said.
“You never know what might come in just from that.”
The board will discuss the committee structure at a future meeting