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San Diego nearly ready to restore Sunday library hours in Pacific Beach after long delay blamed on hiring problems

In an aisle lined with book-crammed shelves, a woman in a face mask reaches to shelve a book from an orange library cart.
A library assistant re-shelves books at the Linda Vista branch on July 6, 2021. Some other branches could reopen for Sunday service this spring.
(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

City’s 36-branch system faced 275 vacancies spurred by pandemic, shifted hourly workers to positions with benefits

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The long-awaited return of Sunday public library hours in San Diego could come this spring as library officials say they’ve made significant progress filling a rash of 275 employee vacancies spurred by the pandemic.

Head librarian Misty Jones said this week she expects to start re-opening some branches on Sundays in the next two months, once more new hires come on board and negotiations with city labor unions are complete.

Jones plans eventually to have five-hour Sunday service at 13 of the city’s 36 branches — the same amount of Sunday service San Diego had before its libraries shut down in spring of 2020.

The list includes the Pacific Beach/Taylor Library at 4275 Cass Street.

If there aren’t enough workers for Sunday service to resume at all 13 branches immediately, Jones plans first to add Sunday service at four branches in low-income areas where library hours are considered most critical: downtown, Valencia Park, Logan Heights and City Heights.

The remaining nine branches slated for Sunday service are Mira Mesa, Otay Mesa, Pacific Beach, Mission Valley, Carmel Valley, La Jolla, Serra Mesa, Point Loma and Rancho Bernardo.

Jones had hoped to restore Sunday service last spring, but the process of filling vacancies has been much more complex and time-consuming than she anticipated.

“It’s been a long slog,” she told the City Council last week. “Unfortunately, we’re having a really hard time filling those lower-level positions. A lot of it has to do with the lower salaries.”

In addition, earlier in the pandemic, Jones and Mayor Todd Gloria decided to use library closures as an opportunity to make a significant long-term change in library staffing, replacing the library’s hourly, part-time positions with jobs that have benefits. The goal was reducing turnover, which had been roughly 30 percent among hourly employees.

Jones said the process hasn’t gone as smoothly as she had hoped, noting she is still facing 176 vacancies. But Jones said she is working with the city’s Personnel Department on some solutions.

“We’re looking at consolidating some of those positions, changing them to a little bit of a higher position,” she said. “Maybe we can take some of those half-time positions and make them full-time positions.”

Local library boosters say the delay in restoring Sunday hours, while disappointing, is understandable in a tight labor market.

“We completely understand the challenges they’re facing,” said Patrick Stewart, chief executive of the San Diego Library Foundation. “It’s tough.”

Stewart said jobs that attracted 500 applicants and 150 viable candidates in the past now attract roughly half those numbers in both categories.

But Stewart said the city is also to blame for an unusually slow hiring process for all city jobs, which take an average of more than 200 days to fill. “It’s an egregious amount of time,” he said.

Frustrated by the problem, the City Council considered placing a measure on last November’s ballot that would have given the mayor more power to accelerate hiring. But promises of reform by personnel officials prompted council members to delay the ballot measure indefinitely.

San Diego was also relatively slow to reopen its branches on days other than Sundays, with four branches remaining fully or partially closed until last year and with Ocean Beach still not fully re-opened.

Full hours were restored at the Serra Mesa branch last March, the North Clairemont library last April and the Clairemont and Mountain View branches last July.

Regular hours for a branch are 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays and 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays through Saturdays.

The Ocean Beach Library reopened for normal Monday-through-Thursday hours last May. Friday and Saturday hours are expected to be restored on Feb. 3, Jones said this week.


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