Libraries today are having the same “labor” problems as fast-food restaurants, hotels, and shops: a serious shortage of staff. The Bedford Free Public Library isn’t immune to these issues.
Director Richard Callaghan made this point clear at the Sept. 21 meeting of the Trustees when he explained the sudden closure of the Library at 6 p.m. on a recent Thursday evening in August. No, it was not Covid related; because of a convergence of various factors, there was simply not enough staff on hand to safely keep the building open until the usual closing time of 9 p.m. It was a “one-off” event which Callaghan hopes will not happen again but is an indicator of today’s staffing problems. Assistant Director Noreen O’Gara confirmed that she is “scrambling” to find staff to cover the hours the Library is open, a situation she says all libraries in our area are facing.
During the past 18 months of the pandemic, several long-time staff members who were close to retirement chose to do so. One staffer, Bedford native Jess Dyment who had been working as both a reference and children’s librarian on a part-time basis, secured a full-time position with the Westford public library. Other part-time employees who are juggling home and work responsibilities during Covid have become less available for work. One positive note: the Library has hired Darshana Merchant, who previously worked in Bedford as a library assistant, to fill some of Dyment’s hours. And note that she speaks several languages.
The staff shortage has had an impact on the resumption of Sunday hours as well, but Director Callaghan is optimistic that a Sunday opening in the usual 1 to 5 p.m. hours may be possible by mid-October.
Trustees Vote for Free Printing
During the summer the Library made a change to its system of public computers, which were old and in need of replacement. A Linux-base software system named Userful (www.userful.com) was installed in July and is now up and running. In place of the individual computers, there is a server with 10 monitors. This is a turnkey solution which purports to save up to 80 percent on hardware costs while reducing software and electric costs. Userful saves libraries money by powering multiple desktops through one server using energy-conserving zero client devices.
During the summer, printing from the public computers was free, but with the beginning of the school year, the Library initiated a charge of 10 cents per page. This change triggered an extended discussion among the board members. Trustee Fahad Alden argued strongly for the printing to be free and suggested it should be on the honor system. Trustee Rachel Field was equally vehement in favoring a free printing policy, acknowledging that this is a service that should be provided to residents. After a lengthy debate, Trustee Abby Hafer moved “that printing be free until January (2022) with appropriate signage.” The motion passed 4 to 1; two trustees were not present at the meeting. The Board agreed to reevaluate the policy at the end of the year.
Friends’ Book Sale a Huge Success
Bedford Day attracted many residents to the Library, with 740 people coming into the building. The Friends of the Library outdoor book sale was such a hit that it continued well past the announced 2 p.m. closing time and was the most successful sale in Friends’ history, with proceeds totaling $4300.
Treasurer Joel Shwimer reports the sale cleared just over $4,200. Recent sales have not generated more than $3,000, indicating that Bedford residents were hungry for a chance to snap up books.