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Hillsborough staff shortages limit libraries

Some branches close temporarily and others have limited hours and fewer services.
The Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library is cutting hours and temporarily closing some branches because of staff shortages attributed to vacancies and absences due to COVID-19 and other medical issues. This sign is on the front door of the Lutz branch.
The Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library is cutting hours and temporarily closing some branches because of staff shortages attributed to vacancies and absences due to COVID-19 and other medical issues. This sign is on the front door of the Lutz branch. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Aug. 4|Updated Aug. 4

TAMPA — Hillsborough County’s library system is looking for a new ending to what has become its summer of ‘22 story: Help wanted.

“I think it’s time we talked about the elephant in the room — or maybe something that’s not in the room — and that’s the fact that we just don’t have the staff at all levels to get things done,” Andrew Breidenbaugh, director of library services, told his staff in a July 26 email.

The system, officially the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library, is now shutting some branches temporarily or reducing operating hours by closing earlier in the day because of staff shortages.

The library has more than 30 branches staffed by about 368 full-time employees, but has approximately 40 vacancies. As many as 10 employees have been out weekly because of COVID-19 and an average of six more are absent because of approved medical leave, the county said.

The result is fewer services for the public. The bookmobile, known as Library2Go, is not operating. The Port Tampa branch closed for the week of July 11-16 and again July 30. The 78th Street Community Library is scheduled to be closed Saturday. Other locations are not open in the evening. In-person programs and some services — like passport applications — are on hiatus.

The Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library is temporarily closing some branches and reducing hours at others and limiting services because of staff shortages attributed to vacancies and absences related to COVID-19 and other medical issues. The book drop outside the Lutz branch is not available for use.
The Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library is temporarily closing some branches and reducing hours at others and limiting services because of staff shortages attributed to vacancies and absences related to COVID-19 and other medical issues. The book drop outside the Lutz branch is not available for use. [ Tampa Bay Times ]

“We realize the inconvenience this causes and are anxious to return to a full level of service. We are working diligently to recruit and fill positions as swiftly as possible,” director of library development Chely Cantrell said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times.

The library is confronting the same post-pandemic shortage of skilled labor as other industries around the country. Nine current vacancies for librarian positions require master’s degrees. At least seven other job openings require a bachelor’s degree.

The staffing shortages are on top of four additional branch closings — in Odessa, Lutz, Sulphur Springs and on Neptune Street in Tampa — because of planned renovations or other repairs.

Library advocates are understanding but concerned.

“It’s a huge problem. When they are not open for business that’s not good for us,” said Paul Suppicich, president of the Friends of the Library of Tampa-Hillsborough County Inc.

The nonprofit operates used-book stores inside individual branches, with the proceeds donated back to the libraries to pay for programs for the public.

“I consider the libraries to be one of our jewels,” said Commissioner Pat Kemp. “Just an incredible resource for our communities and they’re free. I’d rather have kids going to the libraries than out in the streets.”

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