CLEARWATER — One thing about library users: They're very literate.
They've been writing clear, intelligent, impassioned e-mails to the city objecting to the fact that Clearwater library hours will be cut back beginning Saturday.
City officials have gotten more than 100 e-mails, letters and phone calls on the subject, with library regulars especially upset that the Countryside branch will be closed Fridays and Saturdays.
The city's leaders say trimming library hours is unavoidable due to voter-mandated tax cuts. But that's not persuading library users who feel that the new hours aren't convenient for working people, and that Countryside's hours in particular shouldn't be cut. They've been pleading their case in a deluge of e-mails (some of which are printed at right).
City and library officials respond that they're being balanced in their approach, ensuring that there's always an open library on the east and west sides of town.
"Saturdays are very busy days for Countryside. We're really sorry to lose Saturdays," said library director Barbara Pickell. "What we decided to do is find complementary hours for the library branches."
On the west side of town, the Beach and North Greenwood library staffs will merge, operating the Beach branch in the mornings and North Greenwood in the afternoons to catch the school-age crowd. North Greenwood will open on Saturdays for the first time.
On the east side of town, the Countryside and East branches will each be open on one weekend day. The two libraries are 5 miles apart. Also, one of those two branches will stay open until 8 p.m. on three weeknights. (See box.)
"I defend the schedule because it's the best we can do under the circumstances," Pickell said.
The Clearwater library system is cutting about $500,000 from its budget, is losing 10 staff positions and is laying off four workers who haven't been placed in other city job vacancies, she said.
Many patrons of the Countryside branch argue that it should be spared because it appears to be busier than other locations.
"This branch is jammed from opening to closing, 7 days a week," John Georgas said in an e-mail to the city.
However, library officials say the Countryside branch is only about 2 or 3 percent busier than the East branch on Drew Street and the main library downtown. As evidence, they cite last month's circulation figures:
Main library: 30,562
East branch: 30,413
The main library's hours aren't being cut because it holds most of the system's collection and functions as a resource for the other branches, officials said.
Beyond Clearwater, public libraries are facing cutbacks all over the bay area.
"We had a choice to make: We could either have fewer facilities with greater hours, or fewer hours with more facilities. We chose the latter," said Mayor Frank Hibbard. "We're not thrilled about having to do it, but it's the times we're in."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4160.