Thursday, January 29, 2015

Hiring of library guards hits a snag; unscheduled closings persist

Here's a depressing update: Due to an "administrative misstep," most of the 10 new security guards promised to the city's short-staffed library system have not been hired yet.

Hiring of library guards hits a snag; unscheduled closings persist

Here's a depressing update: Due to an "administrative misstep," most of the 10 new security guards promised to the city's short-staffed library system have not been hired yet.

As a result, library branches throughout the city have continued to operate with unscheduled closings and reduced hours, and will do so for at least a few more days.

In December, the Daily News reported that many of the Free Library of Philadelphia's 54 branches were not open as scheduled. For several months, numerous closings had been announced each morning on the library's Web site.

The closures were inevitable, the library explained, because there weren't enough staffers when illness, jury duty or other obligations kept employees away from work.

The problem was made worse a shortage of security guards that prevented keeping all the branches open. Under library rules, a guard must be present for a branch to open.

Things were supposed to have improved by now. In late November, the library received approval from the city to hire new guards. They were to begin work by February, and the unscheduled closings were supposed to subside.

But they haven't.

Over the past few weeks, the closings and reduced hours have continued. On Feb. 23, for example, five branches were closed and 18 branches had reduced hours. (Two other branches were closed for renovations.)

"You don't know day-to-day whether your particular branch is going to be closed," said Laura McColgan, president of the Friends of the Whitman Public Library, whose branch closed unexpectedly on Feb. 22.

Mayoral spokesman Doug Oliver explained that an "error on the part of the administration" caused a delay in the hiring of the additional guards.

The library had already interviewed and hired 10 new guards, Oliver said, some of whom started working before the city realized that civil-service hiring procedures had not been followed.

Civil-service procedure mandates that individuals at the top of hiring lists be offered new positions first. But this didn't happen with the guards who were hired for the library, Oliver said.

The civil-service hiring process is "extensive and requires you to touch many bases," he said.

The upshot is that more time will be needed for 10 new guards to start working.

"Thus far, three new guards have been hired," Oliver said. "The library expects to make job offers to fill the remaining positions following interviews tomorrow."

Of the three hired already, two start today and one will start next Monday.

Even with the guards in place, however, unscheduled closings will likely persist.

"The hiring of the guards is not going to solve this problem," said Amy Dougherty, executive director of the Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia. In addition to a security guard, library regulations require a branch to have four staff members present in order to open, regardless of size. Reduced city funding forced the library to cut close to 115 positions, making it nearly impossible to keep all branches open on schedule.

Oliver acknowledged that the new hires won't solve all the library problems, but he said that they should help to reduce the number of unscheduled closings.

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