Sundays and Libraries — they go together like PB&J!
Here it is high noon on the first really beautiful sunny Sunday of spring in New Jersey and I am already at work preparing to open the library doors in an hour. Part of me really wishes I was outside with the rest of the world enjoying the weather, but the other part of me really values and believes in public libraries being open on Sunday all year round.
I read an article this week about the library system in Mesa, AZ being forced to close their branch libraries on Sunday. [Budget woes close Mesa libraries on Sundays] I have seen all too many articles of a similar nature over the course of the last few years. It often seems that the big solution to budget problems for a public library is to simply close up shop on Sundays. Why is it that Sunday is the first to go? Why not close on Mondays or another day of the week instead if the budget is really so tight?
I think I know the answer to this question — because of union rules, or else libraries have contracts with employees that pay them extra for working Sunday so that makes the cost prohibitive. But we just have to accept the fact that our world has changed and (even if you don’t like it) Sunday is no longer considered to be different than any other day of the week by the majority of the population.
Librarians often talk about how they can attract the underserved or reach out to the non-user. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for attracting new library users and serving the underserved. But when I read about Sunday closings of public libraries it seems to me that what we are doing is alienating a significant portion of active library users and closing the doors on them during one of the few times they can use the library. Sunday is increasingly becoming the only day of the week that many people have time to visit the library and it is also the day that most students are trying to do their homework after procrastinating all weekend. I know for a fact that at MPOW our usage statistics would drop significantly without Sunday hours.
Like many public libraries, Sunday is our busiest day of the week. We are open 1-6 pm on Sundays year round. In those 5 hours that we are open we answer more questions and have higher circulation and door counts per hour than we do in any of the 12 hours that we are open on Monday (or some Tuesday for that matter). We have been taking seat counts on Sundays at 3 pm for a few months and even though we knew it was busy, we had no idea how busy until we started these seat counts. Consider this, 2 weeks ago at 3 pm on Sunday we had:
- 137 people actively engaged in activities on the 2nd floor (tutoring, studying, reading magazines, doing research, using the computers, etc)
- 102 people attending a program in our community room
- 37 people browsing the collection on the first floor
- 112 parents, children and teens on the 3rd floor
- 20 people in the library cafe
- 14 people in the conference room
If you are keeping track, that is 422 people in our 58,000 square foot building. I for one think that is impressive and I am sure many other libraries will be able to chime in with similar numbers. If you are not impressed yet, let me offer up these other statistics for the months of February and March 2006:
- When we open the doors at 1 pm on Sundays we have an average of 48 people lined up waiting for us to open. They start lining up around 12:45 pm or earlier and many wish we would open at noon.
- Our average gate count for the 12 hours we are open on Mondays: 3,390 or 282/hour
- Our average gate count for the 5 hours we are open on Sunday: 2,628 or 526/hour
Our gate count is almost double on Sunday when taken on an hourly basis. To me, that statistic alone should be enough to convince others of the value of being open on Sundays.
We have recently changed the way we staff on Sunday. We used to operate with a minimal staff of mostly part-time employees and one or two full-time employees. We have since added extra staff to each service point on Sundays and staff with as many full-time employees as possible. To accomplish this we had to do something that wasn’t easy or popular. We totally eliminated the concept of “Sunday Pay”. We had staff meetings to debate this issue and formed a committee to look at alternatives and (in the end) the reality was that Sunday was important to our users and we needed to staff it to best serve their needs.
I actually don’t mind working Sundays. I get time off on Monday in exchange when the grocery stores are less busy and I can do my other errands without the weekend crowds. I often accomplish a great deal more on a Monday off than a Sunday off, plus I can watch daytime tv or go to the gym in the early afternoon and not fight for a treadmill. To me, becoming more accepting of working on Sundays was just a matter of mind shift. Look for the positives and then the Sunday shift looks much better.
One more Sunday story before I get off my off soapbox:
When we built our new library 2 years we installed 105 computers for public use. We felt pretty confident that we had several years to go before we reached “computing capacity”. But it was less than a year after we opened that we actually had all 100+ computers in use and people waiting in line for a turn. When did this momentus event occur? On a Sunday, of course! To this day, we have only reached capacity a few more times… and it is always on Sunday.