A year after financial troubles resulted in reduced hours at North Little Rock's libraries, the William F. Laman Public Library System will restore most of those hours beginning Jan. 4, Executive Director Crystal Gates said.
Hours for the main library, 2801 Orange St., will be 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, adding one hour at the beginning and end of each day, for an eight-hour overall increase per week. Its Friday and Saturday hours will remain 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
The downtown Argenta Branch, 420 Main St., will reopen on Saturdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and begin weekday hours one hour earlier, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., giving patrons another nine hours total per week. Both libraries will remain closed on Sundays.
"Hopefully, everybody will enjoy the longer hours again," Gates said. "We'll be able to offer more evening programs here at the main library now that we can stay open a little later."
The reduced hours had been necessitated by financial problems within the library system. As of Dec. 1 last year, the main library cut back by 16 hours a week, reducing its 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday schedule by three hours daily and eliminating its 1-5 p.m. hours on Sundays. The Argenta Branch started closing on Saturdays, shutting down that 10 a.m.-6 p.m. schedule, an eight-hour weekly reduction.
The library system also announced layoffs of 11 staff members by the beginning of this year, stopped several community programs and cut back on exhibits.
"We're ready," Gates said of the additional hours. "We've got enough staff to handle it now. We're on good financial footing to have the extra utilities cost because of being open earlier.
"The main library's utilities costs won't change so much because some staff get here very early anyway to turn everything on," she added. "For Argenta to open the four hours on Saturdays, we've budgeted enough for that."
The library has about 45 full- and part-time staff members now and a $3.5 million budget for 2016.
The previous financial problems were blamed on higher-than-anticipated costs to open the Argenta Branch in April 2014 in a renovated, former downtown Post Office building that cost $3.5 million, plus at least $12,000 in repairs since the branch opened.
In late December last year, North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith arranged for the city's Public Building Authority to restructure two of the library's loans, returning $625,000 to the library system's budget for this year.
The city also began offering legal, financial and maintenance assistance for the libraries to help the system reduce costs. The Laman Library system doesn't receive any operational funds from the city.
"On a long-term basis, we'd like to get our hours back up and possibly get downtown open on Saturday [afternoons] again," said Alderman Murry Witcher, a member of the library's board of trustees. "It's going to be open now on Saturday mornings, but we're trying to get back to where we were.
"We're going to take it one step at a time. That's the idea."
Gates began as executive director Oct. 19 after the library system spent 14 months with an interim director. The previous executive director, Jeff Baskin, died last year. During the past year, the city's Human Resources Department advertised for and interviewed potential candidates, as did an executive search firm hired by the library board.
Gates, former director of the Jackson Parish Public Library in Jonesboro, La., was offered the position Sept. 11 over two other finalists from among 17 candidates. Her starting salary is $85,000 annually.
Restoring hours "was one of the primary concerns during the interview process," Gates said. "Everyone wanted at least some of those hours to come back."
The new hours will begin on Jan. 4, a Monday, Gates said. The libraries will be closed Friday, Jan. 1, for New Year's Day.
Metro on 12/22/2015