The 1 million annual visitors to Mesa’s libraries will soon have more time to search for the right book or conduct online research thanks to an improving economy.
The city’s four libraries will extend their hours starting May 14, reversing deep cuts Mesa put in place in early 2009 as the recession strained funding.
The longer hours are part of several service improvements planned in the next year, including a pilot self-service location at a transit center and a testing collaborate workspace similar to Gangplank in Chandler.
The most noticeable change is the longer hours. All branches will operate 54 hours a week, up from 50 hours at the downtown library and 39 hours at the city’s three branches. The cuts resulted in long lines at times and discouraged patrons from staying in Mesa, library director
Heather Wolf said. She attributes that with about 10,000 Mesa residents signing up to use the Southeast Regional Library in Gilbert.
“As far as the East Valley is concerned, we are the library that took the most drastic reduction in hours,” Wolf said. “So people who could travel had options in Gilbert and Chandler and Tempe, where hours weren’t cut as dramatically,” Wolf said.
The library isn’t expanding its payroll to cover the additional hours. Instead, self-serve technology has freed up staff time, and some high-wage positions were reclassified so more people could be hired at lower wages.
The longer hours are still short of the 66 hours a week the libraries once operated, and all locations will remain closed on Sundays. But the library is trying to bridge the gap by opening the doors an hour earlier for patrons willing to serve themselves. From 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., visitors can use computers or the self-checkout, but they’ll have to wait until 10 a.m. if they need to pay fines, get a library card or use other more staff-intensive services.
The idea came about because the libraries usually have regular patrons waiting outside up to an hour before the branches open. Library workers are already at work, though they aren’t at the help desk for that first hour to help visitors.
“I think a majority of people will come in and be able to take care of themselves without having anybody at a desk to help,” she said.
Also, the library is planning to open a dedicated space at the Red Mountain Branch that allows users to actively create their own content with the library’s resources. With the Mesa Chamber of Commerce and the Mesa Unified School District, the library will have a dedicated space with PC-based and Apple computers. The space could be used by students who don’t have computers or software at home to work on assignments, or for seminars with small business owners who want to learn marketing with social media.
The library has looked at similar spaces elsewhere, including Gangplank. The concept will likely cost several hundred thousand dollars and is still being refined, Wolf said.
City Manager Chris Brady said if the concept works, it could be expanded and located elsewhere in Mesa.
The city is also planning to install self-service equipment in the next year at the Superstition Springs Transit Center. It would serve about 65,000 commuters who pass through every month. If successful, the concept could expand to locations that include the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.
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