GREAT BARRINGTON - Too many open hours and too little help is straining library staff at two libraries.
This is what Mason and Ramsdell Library Director Amanda DeGiorgis told the Select Board Monday, before the board approved, 4-1, her request for a decrease in library hours, mostly at Ramsdell Library in Housatonic.
Board member Ed Abrahams, a former library trustee, voted against the new hours only because he said the library's board of trustees had not approved them first.
After a 2011 increase in hours that library trustees anticipated would be covered mostly by volunteers, the staff had trouble keeping up, DeGiorgis said.
"The volunteers never materialized," DeGiorgis added, noting that the administration began doing lots of different tasks, and currently is "spending more and more time covering the desk, which means that other things needed to run the library are being neglected."
Both libraries, DeGiorgis said, are beloved and serve between 5,000 to 10,000 Great Barrington residents and those who live in outlying towns. They are "havens ... served by a dedicated, kind and hardworking staff."
The Mason Library on Main Street in Great Barrington is a busy area hub with extensive programming and resources like private meeting rooms and numerous computers. Housatonic residents consider the Ramsdell Library a treasure in a small village with only a handful of public spaces.
"Our libraries are rich beyond measure," DeGiorgis said.
But DeGiorgis gave the board some numbers. Mason and Ramsdell are open a total of 84 hours per week, with a circulation of 170,000 and a staff of 13.
Compare that, she said, to other towns like Pittsfield and Lenox.
"We are second in hours to Pittsfield and yet we have the same total number of staff as Lenox, which is open half as many hours as we are," she added.
She further said the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners recommends just 25 open hours for a library serving a town the size of Great Barrington.
DeGiorgis proposed shrinking Mason's hours by just two per week; instead of closing at 7 p.m. every weekday, it would close at 6 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, based on patron usage.
Ramsdell's hours, however, would be reduced by 14. DeDiorgis later told The Eagle she was confident this shouldn't hurt its patrons, based on hourly usage statistics kept over the last five years.
Select Board Chairman Sean Stanton said he was concerned about the varying opening and closing hours.
"If you were running a business, it would be very confusing," he said.
But one Mason patron said the one hour change on two different days wouldn't make much difference at what she said is such a cherished and critical community center.
"A lot of people use this as a second home every day," said Alford resident Nora Richardson, who was going through the DVD movies. "It's a peaceful place to read and be left alone."
Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871