Library supporters criticize use of $225K gift for storytelling 

Supporters of a branch library are outraged over the city’s use of a $225,000 donation to pay a retired librarian $45 per hour for storytelling instead of restoring reduced hours at the facility or preventing its potential closure.

Library officials defend the use of up to $40,000 annually through 2015 for storytelling and other literacy programs, saying Redwood City’s policy is not to use one-time money for general operating expenses.

But residents are angry that their neighborhood branch, Schaberg Library, had its hours abruptly slashed in October from 43 per week to 20 to save $94,000 annually while the city funds programs they say could be performed by staff or volunteers. Redwood City is facing a $2.7 million deficit for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

“It’s really appalling,” said Tanja Vierra, 41, who has two young children and lives near the 54-year-old Schaberg. “I think people are most outraged about the 40 grand being paid to him and this money being earmarked for years to come when, given their druthers, I’m sure people would rather have more money for operations than storytime.”

The donation was bequeathed to the city in 1997 by the late Bessie A. Evans, a longtime Redwood City resident who walked to the library daily, for the “library’s general use,” according to a November staff report.

Redwood City Library Director Dave Genesy, with input from the library and library foundation boards, recommended the money be moved to the nonprofit foundation and used for literacy programs and outreach to schools. The City Council approved the move without discussion Nov. 8.

The foundation has used the money since September to pay Chuck Ashton, who retired in August as the library’s youth­services manager after 23 years.

Invoices obtained by The San Francisco Examiner show Ashton makes $45 per hour and at least 52 of his 71 hours in December and January were for “storytime” at the downtown and Schaberg Libraries.

Records show that Ashton submitted an invoice for 22 events in January totaling 45 hours, or $2,025. Since Ashton started the contract last year, he reported working 185 hours at 207 events, records show.

“The adults love him, the children love him,” said foundation Executive Director Georgi LaBerge. She said Ashton is expanding library outreach at local schools, though invoices show only one school event in the last two months.

Genesy said a city deficit means libraries may sustain further cuts, including reducing hours or even closing Schaberg or other city libraries, though nothing has been decided.

But Vierra said Schaberg’s reduced hours have made it harder for mothers of young children and other patrons to access their neighborhood branch.

Sharon Levin — who resigned from the library board in January in part over concerns about the handling of the Evans gift — said the donation policy shouldn’t be so rigid when closures are on the table.

“We have librarians who live for this sort of thing,” Levin said of storytelling. “We don’t need to pay $45 an hour for this.”

On the books

The use of a donation has been questioned as the Redwood City Library slashes its budget.

$45: Hourly rate of storyteller Chuck Ashton
$40,000: Funding for storytelling and literacy programs through 2015
$225,000: Donation for library use by the late Bessie A. Evans in 1997
$94,000: Cost savings by reducing Schaberg Library hours from 43 to 20
$2.7M: Redwood City deficit for 2011-12 fiscal year

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Shaun Bishop

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