Belt-Tightening at Kellogg-Hubbard as Capital Improvements Loom

By Nat Frothingham

Is there any other not-for-profit in Montpelier that can come even close to matching Kellogg-Hubbard Library for its long history of broad public service and equally broad private and public support?

Probably not.

Here in town, when we talk about Kellogg-Hubbard, we often refer to it as “the community’s living room.”

Behind that grateful sentiment are these numbers: Kellogg-Hubbard Library was founded in 1894 and first opened its doors in 1895. When measured by circulation, Kellogg-Hubbard is the second-busiest library in the state after Burlington’s Fletcher Free Library, loaning some 275,000 books and other items last year.

“People love the library,” said Tom McKone, the library’s executive director, in a recent phone conversation with The Bridge. He went on to describe the library’s heavy use and popularity with these figures, “Seven hundred and fifty people a day visit the library,” he said. “That’s a great number.”

The community’s financial effort to support Kellogg-Hubbard is equally impressive. According to McKone, community financial giving–individual donations and gifts to the library from fundraising activities–amounts to an average of $180,000 a year, or 20 percent of the library’s $913,000 budget. Then he added, “Few other Vermont communities are making the kind of fundraising effort or experiencing the kind of fundraising success as Kellogg-Hubbard.”

But it’s not all sunshine and roses at the library because over the past several years it has had to contend with difficult financial issues.

“Money has been tight for several years,” said McKone. “And sometimes we’ve needed to make reductions, but it hasn’t been visible. Cuts in recent years have reduced library spending on technology, that is computer services to the public and for the library’s own computers. The library has also cut spending for books, DVDs, and programming.

“We do a lot of programming,” said McKone, such as public speakers, presentations, and summer camps for kids, to name but two examples.

McKone then went on to talk about cuts to the library’s maintenance budget. “I’m not talking here about the routine, daily maintenance of the building.” Instead, he was discussing the ongoing, sometimes big-ticket, library maintenance projects that are still not addressed.

One of these pending projects is the building’s heating control system that recently failed. Its replacement system will cost $25,000. Here’s another: a need to replace the mechanical system that runs the library’s elevator. This project has been on the horizon for a number of years and will cost $200,000.

And there’s more.

About a year-and-a-half ago, when a snowplow hit an exposed phone line on an outdoor utility pole, it became quickly apparent that the old phone line–and a power line from the same pole–would have to be either upgraded or replaced. The phone line needed immediate attention. And the library’s cost to address the phone and electric lines and bury them in the ground will come to $30,000.

“Right now, we have so many projects,” McKone said about the growing list of deferred, often costly, building maintenance projects.

Speaking candidly, he said: “Sometimes we’ve let things go longer than we wanted.” But letting things go can’t continue indefinitely.

So the wheels are now in motion, and according to McKone, the library’s board of trustees has turned attention to long-term planning with a library maintenance plan to be produced during 2019. This plan will describe each maintenance project in detail together with a strategy to pay for the work. “It’s also quite possible,” McKone added, “that some of the maintenance projects could qualify for grant support.”

Turning to the financial nitty-gritty of coming to grips with the needed building improvements head on, McKone said: “I needed to close a gap of $40,000 between income and spending. In previous years, we haven’t touched salaries and benefits.” But he said, “That’s the way we decided to go.”

All of which brings us up to this past May when the library board decided to close the $40,000 gap by reducing library hours, which took effect in mid-July.

Before cutting the library’s hours, McKone and others conducted some research. “We looked at the hours of operations of 16 other libraries with due attention to mornings, evenings, and Saturdays,” said McKone.

Kellogg-Hubbard has traditionally opened at 10 in the morning. Some libraries open at noon. But Kellogg-Hubbard is heavily used in the morning with a busy Children’s Library. It’s also heavily used in the afternoon, but much less after 5:30 pm.

As the research findings were gathered and analyzed, the outlines of a new “hours-open” proposal began to emerge. It might have sounded something like this. “Stick with the 10 o’clock opening in the morning. Continue to be open in the afternoons. But cut back on the number of evenings that the library will be open after 5:30 pm. And shorten the Saturday hours.”

In the final analysis, the library decided on these new library hours that took effect on July 16, 2018: Adult Library: 10 am to 8 pm on Mondays and Wednesdays; 10 am to 5:30 pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays; and 10 am to 2 pm on Saturdays.

Based on the reduced hours that have already gone into effect, Kellogg-Hubbard has cut 8.5 hours a week from its former schedule and in so doing appears to have closed the gap between expenses and income.

Talking about the impacts on staff, McKone said, “We had one person who wanted to look for another job. Another person was retiring. There was a third person who works part time; He or she got fewer hours.” Many of the library’s staff people contributed to the cost-saving effort. “I took a reduction in pay,” said McKone about himself. Then added, “We did proportionate cuts for staff and administration.”

When asked if cuts in library hours were temporary or permanent, McKone said, “Yes, the cuts were being made for the foreseeable future,” a cost-cutting savings he estimates will continue to save thousands of dollars a year.

When asked about the public reaction to the reduced library hours, McKone said, “There has been a modest reaction. There hasn’t been a lot.”

Sharing his personal reaction to the now-reduced hours, McKone said, “We would definitely like to be open.” But reducing library’s hours has an inescapable logic.

Said McKone in conclusion, “This is completely about living within our means, about living with the money that is coming in.”

Kellogg-Hubbard Library by the Numbers:

  • 18,449: Square footage of building
  • 72,000: Size of book collection
  • 516: Number of programs offered last year
  • 9,466: Total attendance at those programs
  • 1,105: Average weekly patron use of free Wi-Fi
  • 16,253: Number of downloaded audio and e-books last year
  • 2,555: Interlibrary loan books borrowed for patrons
  • $330,633: Library funding from Montpelier
  • $4.5 million Endowment
  • $227,259: Current annual income from investing the endowment
  • 5,522: Number of city residents with active library cards
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