By Yvonne Gonzalez
Maricopa Public Library is underfunded, understaffed and out of options to expand services without added resources.
Library manager Erik Surber said he plans to ask the city for more funding as officials lay out the next budget in the coming months. He will give a presentation on the current budget situation for city council members during an April 5 work session.
“I feel it’s really my job to advocate for the library to get us to where I think [we should be],” Surber said, “and where the community wants us.”
Surber said there are no current plans to close the library on Saturdays, despite a rumor to the contrary.
“We’re in the middle of the budget process right now,” he said. “Nothing’s finalized at this point.”
Library programs are largely based on community input, Surber said.
“If there [are] a lot of people asking for certain programs and we want to add it, we have to look at what program we’re currently offering that we would cut,” he said. “That is the reality of our economic situation.”
City spokesperson Jennifer Brown said a new spending plan for the city will be adopted in late June, with the current budget year ending in July.
“The budget is tight for everybody,” she said. “We’re still in the midst of figuring out next year’s budget.”
Though the library is understaffed, Surber noted the facility doesn’t have the capacity to hold more employees.
“In this case, being undersized trumps being understaffed,” he said.
Surber said among 16 Arizona cities with a population between 12,000 and 80,000, the median library budget is $33.88 per capita. Meanwhile, Maricopa’s library is about a third of that, at $11.20 per capita.
Median staffing for those same libraries, Surber said, is at 0.54 full-time equivalent positions for every 1,000 residents, while Maricopa sits at 0.18.
“That’s generally how libraries measure staffing level,” he said.
Several reasons play into the library’s staffing and funding, from the economic downturn to the rising costs of goods, including books.
“We are the newest of those 16 libraries,” he said. “We are the newest one and playing catch-up.”
He said the library has been put in a difficult funding position.
“We’re definitely not unique in that struggle,” he said. “Libraries all over the country are really finding themselves in similar positions.”
The library is getting creative in finding funds, pursuing sponsors for its summer reading program as well as regional and national grants.
“It’s an unfortunate situation economically that we’re in currently, but we’re trying to find solutions,” he said.