LARGO — Andrea Tammaro and Cheyenne Richards sat at a crowded table Sunday afternoon in R.G.'s Bookmark Cafe, just inside the Largo Public Library. The two teenage girls split a chocolate chip muffin and cookie while paging through 17 books they had just checked out, most of them from the romance or fantasy genres.
Wicked: Resurrection, the third book in a series about a family of modern-day witches, sat on top of one stack, while Emerald Flame, the third entry in the Warrior Princess series of fantasy novels, topped the other stack.
Tammaro and Richards are two of about 600 people who regularly visit the Largo library on Sundays, but they will all have to rearrange their library habits next month. This Sunday is the last the library will be open, as management copes with a staff that is about one-third smaller than it was a few years ago due to budget cuts.
Library staffing has dropped from nearly 60 full-time equivalent positions in 2007 to 41 full-time equivalents in the proposed 2012 budget. The library hasn't had layoffs since 2007. This year's cut of 2.5 positions was achieved through attrition. Library Director Casey McPhee says she needs a minimum of 15 to 18 employees each day to keep the building open, and the latest round of cuts makes it impossible to stay open seven days a week.
Library hours hit a high-water mark of 69 per week in 2005 but will be down to 57 after the Sunday closure goes into effect. McPhee has lopped off hours in the evenings and mornings before this year. The library closes now at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays. Thursday's hours were reduced from 12 hours (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.) to eight hours (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.).
"We tried really hard not to close a day, but in this particular round of cuts we didn't have a choice," McPhee said Monday.
The library has been open from 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays and saw an average of 150 visitors per hour. Sundays are neither the busiest nor the slowest days of the week, McPhee said. Most days are pretty steady, with between 130 and 150 visitors per hour.
"We've done our homework, and we've tried to make these cuts as palatable as possible for the public," McPhee said.
That comes as little solace to Melanie Menendez, a nursing assistant from Largo. Menendez likes to start every Sunday with a walk through the park with her husband, David, and their 3-year-old daughter Melissa before heading to the library.
"We're not happy about it. I only get two days off a week," Menendez, 37, said Sunday afternoon. She had just finished looking through the library's DVD selection and was off to find a copy of the book Tuesdays with Morrie.
"I guess we'll just come on Saturdays," she said.
The steep staffing cuts are part of $734,900 in expenses the library has trimmed since 2007, according to Largo's budget office. Yet its overall budget has fallen only $218,900 during that period because other costs — for example, employee health insurance — went up.
Tammaro, 16, and Richards, 14, weren't happy to hear of the schedule change, but they seemed more annoyed that the library's cafe didn't serve frozen coffee drinks. (They settled for Dr Pepper and iced coffee.)
They said the Sunday closure probably will be more troublesome when the school year starts again, since both girls regularly use the library's computers and Internet access for homework. They said they'd adjust, but Richards, a rising freshman at Largo High School, did lament that she will have one less place to kill time on a lazy Sunday.
"If teens aren't in a library reading or checking out the Internet," she said, "they're probably out getting into trouble somewhere."
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.