Library Shutdown: Budget shortfall impacts

Mariesa Bus speaks with the Ledger about the challenges facing the Tacoma Public Library.

The Public Information Officer for the Tacoma Public Library (TPL), Mariesa Bus, spoke to the Ledger about the TPL’s two-week closures this year and the next. 

“This will be our first Budget Closure we’ve experienced,” Bus said. 

Due to COVID-19, the City of Tacoma had a shortfall in revenue that is causing the TPL to face closures this year and next due to a $1.2 million cut to their biennium budget for 2021 and 2022. 

“We are meeting the budget shortfall through two weeks of unpaid furlough, so this affects our employees’ pay. We wanted to minimize the impact on our lowest-paid employees, our pages. So, we reduced pay on a sliding scale, and our top wage earners will take additional weeks of unpaid furlough,” she explained. 

She said this will be hard on the TPL employees and the greater Tacoma community as a whole. However, Mariesa believes that this was the best option they had.

“Although I am disappointed we need to close the libraries and go on unpaid furlough for two weeks in 2021 and again in 2022, I am glad that we were able to find a solution that helped us meet the budget shortfall without any layoffs,” Bus said.

Like many places, the TPL has been heavily impacted by COVID. Since March of 2019, the TPL’s building has been closed to the public, and the staff has had to function around this. 

“COVID has significantly changed the way that we connect with our community. Our buildings have been closed to the public since March, so we had to adapt to offering programs and services virtually,” Bus said. “We also adapted our material check-outs as a walk-up service called TPL to Go. Overall, COVID has forced us to be creative, resilient, and adaptable, and I think our staff has done a great job.”

This creativity has manifested in the library finding new methods to expand its accessibility in more ways than just providing books for the public. 

“We are focusing right now on bridging the digital divide so that more community members can access our amazing eResources and digital collection and attend our virtual programs. We are working with some local organizations such as Graduate Tacoma to distribute mobile WiFi hotspots to community members who do not have access to high-speed internet,” she said.

Still, the budget closure will continue to impact the people of Tacoma heavily. 

“A week without library access is a significant detriment to our community. We chose the weeks of the closures in 2021 to be of minimal impact, but we know that it will still be a loss for our community to be disconnected from library services,” Bus said. 

Even with these struggles, the Tacoma community has come through for the TPL in many different ways. 

“Our community has demonstrated their love and support several times through advocating for us, donating, and sharing their stories about why the library matters to them. We also have a wonderful Board of Trustees and a new Foundation who dedicate their time and energy in helping us achieve our mission,” she said. 

Those that want to support the TPL can still provide help through several means. The staff appreciates any support for the library. 

“We encourage people to get their library cards, check out materials, attend programs and utilize all the resources that we have available!” Bus said. “We also love it when people share our posts on social media or just talk to their networks about why the library matters to them. We exist to support and serve our community, so we need people to stay involved.” 

Now, the TPL holds virtual programs like STEM Storytime and book clubs along with youth and teen events that build skills while also working to combat feelings of isolation expedited by COVID. 

“We have so many fantastic programs happening all the time,” she said. “I always just tell people to check out the calendar on our website and sign up for anything that might interest you. You never know who you will meet or what you’ll learn. Right now, we are offering some incredible programs for Black History Month, and I encourage everyone to check them out!” she said. 

This support from the public pushes the TPL to continue looking towards their prospects and goals for the future.

“Like everyone, we are hoping that things return to normal and we can reopen our buildings. No matter what, we will continue to adapt and find ways to serve our community. One great example of a change that has already happened is the Tool Library moving into the main library, as we are working to transform the massive building to be better utilized. We hope to have more nonprofits move into the second floor,” Bus explained. 

The TPL will be closed for two weeks in 2021 and 2022. This year, the first closures will occur Feb. 21-28. Then later on, they will be set to take place Nov. 28-Dec. 5. The dates for 2022 have not yet been set.

You can directly donate by texting STRONGTPL to 41444 or visiting the Tacoma Public Library donation page: