D.C. library advocates told D.C. Council members Thursday that they want libraries to be open longer, but are worried that extra hours would mean more staffing.
"We want extended hours, but there needs to be funding to staff these hours," said Susan B. Haight, president of the Federation of Friends of the DC Public Library. "My concern is that legislation will be passed and the funding will not follow. An unfunded mandate does not work for us."
The District of Columbia Public Library Hours Expansion Act of 2012, which would cost an estimated $10 million, wouldrequire all D.C. branch libraries, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, to be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Currently, all branch libraries are closed on Sunday and two mornings a week. On all but two of the six days a week they are open, they close at 5:30 p.m.
"The current staffing level at the library cannot, and I emphasize cannot, carry the load of extended hours without becoming weary and sickly," said union representative Anntoinette White-Richardson.
However, Ward 2 D.C. Councilman Jack Evans said he is mandating the library hours in his legislation to obtain the needed funding.
"It's clear to me that the circumstances will never come where we voluntarily, as a government, keep the libraries open," Evans said. "There will always be some advocacy group that will approach my colleagues or the mayor and figure out a way to take money from the libraries and other important services and use it for their service."
White-Richardson worried specifically about the council promising the funding one year but taking it away the next.
However, Evans said he would not vote for next year's budget unless it allocated money for the staffing of extended hours, and he said would not vote for any budgets that would pull the money away from it.
"I want it to be in law prior to the mayor sending the budget to us on March 15 because if it's in law, that it must be funded, then the mayor must fund it."
Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells, chairman of the council's Committee on Libraries, Parks, Recreation and Planning, said having Evans' support for the libraries is critical because Evans is chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee.
The city has rebuilt and renovated many of D.C.'s libraries, a reason Evans said the council should support extending their hours.
"We have some of the finest libraries in the country, if not in the world. We have put hundreds of millions of dollars into renovating or rebuilding our library system," Evans said. "What good is having any new libraries if no one can get in them?"