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Fort Worth library hours could be cut

FORT WORTH -- City officials proposed a radical change to the city's library system today starting this year with a cut in library hours at all its branches.

Addressing the Fort Worth City Council at its budget retreat, library director Gleniece Robinson outlined a proposed cut in library hours of as much as 38 percent at some branches starting next month while also revealing details of a long-term policy involving closing some branches and redesigning others to appeal to tech-savvy youth.

"Everything they know is on demand," Robinson said. "They have Bluetooth and iPods and MP3 players. They download and upload and instant message. ... We need to respond to those users in terms of providing services."

The four redesigned branches would be smaller than traditional branches and focus on "high demand services" such as providing online access and have a smaller collection of print materials that are chosen based on their popularity, Robinson said.

Robinson said the changes were proposed in response to the city's multimillion-dollar budget shortfall, which is expected to grow over the next five years. She noted that her department is following the lead of other cities such as Houston, which opened an "express library" in a shopping center last year.

"It's mostly a self-service kind of concept," Robinson said. "It's a more efficient, effective and cost-conscious way of responding to the city's growth."

Council members praised Robinson's efforts to cut costs but did not commit to her long-term plans of closing some branches.

"I guess this is like medicine that's good for you," Councilman Danny Scarth said. "It's a little hard to swallow."

Several council members focused their questions on the most immediate change: a cut in library hours.

"It's especially difficult because obviously we know when there's an economic downturn, people use libraries even more," Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks said. "To see fewer hours is troubling."

Starting Sept. 27, the city's library staff is planning to reduce operating hours at the Southwest and East Regional Libraries from 64 hours a week to 40 hours a week — with each facility open only one night per week instead of four nights.

In downtown Fort Worth, the Central Library's hours will be cut from 70 to 52 hours and would see evening hours cut from four nights to two nights.

The city's 10 neighborhood branches would have their hours cut from 42 to 40 hours per week, with evening hours reduced from two nights to one night.

Councilman Frank Moss wondered whether students of working parents would be able to use their local branch if it's not open late. Councilman Sal Espino said he was worried about how these changes might affect local literacy rates.

Robinson said the details of the new library schedule were still being developed but assured council members that several libraries around the city will remain open to the public every evening.

"You are going to hear some people that aren't going to be happy about it," Mayor Mike Moncrief said. "At the same time, I think you're going to hear from people who are pleased that they don't have an increase in taxes."