The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have hit the Neill Public Library in Pullman harder than other area libraries.
“This pandemic has brought really unprecedented, volatile times upon us,” Neill Public Library Director Joanna Bailey said Friday.
Of the 28 staff members who were working at Neill Public Library before the pandemic, only four are currently working now, Bailey said. Staff members have been furloughed as the city tries to limit expenses during a time when revenues have dropped.
With budget cutbacks, the library has eliminated all of its programs, including its summer reading program and its youth services department.
Currently, it only provides curbside service for patrons who want to pick up library items. Bailey said the library tried providing curbside service five days a week, but having such a small staff on hand made that task too difficult. She said patrons checked out more than 8,000 items in the past six weeks, which is not sustainable with only four employees.
On Monday, Neill Public Library reduced its curbside service to three days a week.
Bailey said the library in May committed more than $310,000, or 17 percent of its budget, to the city to allow the government to save money during the pandemic.
Furloughs have also helped the library cut down expenditures. In total, Bailey said, the library has only spent 38 percent of its total budget this year, which represents about a 20-percent reduction in expenditures.
Bailey said Neill Public Library does not have any funding for buying new books, movies and other items for people to borrow. More than $100,000 in funding for new items was frozen, she said.
Bailey said community members hear about what other local libraries are offering and expect the same from Neill Public Library. She said those libraries have more staff and resources to move its programs online.
Mayor Glenn Johnson wrote in an email to the Daily News that every city and county in the country is experiencing similar challenges through the pandemic. He said the city is hoping for more state or federal financial assistance, but currently it has not received enough to keep all departments operating at the same pace as before the pandemic.
“The library is just one of every city department affected by Covid-19 and the impact it has on business, sales tax, property tax, admissions tax, utility tax,” he wrote.
While these cutbacks have been frustrating, Bailey said she understands the city has been forced to make difficult financial decisions in response to the pandemic.
“Everybody is doing their level best in a tough situation,” she said.
She applauded the city for continuing to pay health benefits of its employees and for furloughing employees instead of forcing layoffs.
However, she said, as the year goes on with no return to normal work in sight and a reduction in unemployment benefits looming, employees are starting to look for alternative work.
Bailey said she is remaining optimistic the library will overcome these setbacks.
It has received support from the community. Bailey said the local organization Friends of Neill Public Library launched a fundraising campaign to help the library acquire new items. So far, it has raised more than $3,000.
The public can make donations online at friendsofnpl.com or send cash or checks to Friends of Neill Public Library, 210 N Grand Avenue, Pullman, WA 99163.
Anthony Kuipers can be reached at email@example.com.