When the City of Littleton announced it would furlough dozens of employees as the city reels from the financial blow of COVID-19 shutdowns, Bemis Public Library and the Littleton Museum took the …
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When the City of Littleton announced it would furlough dozens of employees as the city reels from the financial blow of COVID-19 shutdowns, Bemis Public Library and the Littleton Museum took the brunt of the impact.
Targeting staff whose work couldn't be done from home, City Manager Mark Relph announced on April 20 he would furlough 58 employees -- 45 of them from the library and museum.
“I had to take action to protect the city's financial interest,” Relph said. “It hurt. Our library and museum provide a unique level of service, and they're beloved by residents and visitors alike.”
The majority of the staff furloughs are from the library at Datura Street and Lake Avenue: 37 were on the list, including 20 part-time substitute librarians, but also staff from childrens' services, technical services and circulation. The library has 60 employees total.
The cuts also included four out of five staff members from the Littleton Immigrant Resources Center, which helps legal immigrants with green cards pursue full American citizenship. LIRC director Glaucia Rabello, the sole employee of the center not furloughed, was not immediately available for comment.
At the museum, across Gallup Street from the library, eight were on the list, including three historical interpreters, who work the Smithsonian-accredited museum's two 19th-century-style farms in period dress. Other cuts included custodians and weekend receptionists. The museum has 21 employees total.
Other staff furloughs included the drivers of the Omnibus and Shopping Cart, two city-run bus services that take seniors to medical appointments and errands. Most of the remaining furloughs were administrative staff from city hall.
Relph said the furloughs will save the city about $150,000 between now and June 24, when they're scheduled to end.
“It positions us to take the next set of necessary actions,” Relph said, though he declined to elaborate.
The city is facing a potential shortfall of $10-13 million by the end of the year, Relph said, though the city's reserve funds should allow it to spread cuts out over several years.
The furloughs are demoralizing, said Tim Nimz, who heads both the museum and library, but said he understood the decision.
“There are no visitors to greet, and it's hard to interpret a closed museum,” Nimz said.
Still, remaining staff are finding ways to reach the public. Bemis Library is offering a slew of programs via video conferencing: senior social clubs, the “Active Minds” lecture series, book clubs, and even an ongoing Dungeons and Dragons game for teenagers.
The museum is finding ways to stay connected, too: in a variety of videos, interpreters are sharing pioneer-era recipes, touring the farms, and answering questions in the “Ask Farmer Steve” series. The museum is also offering a digital tour of its “Eye of the Camera” photography show.
“We're trying to live up to the personal commitment our community has in us,” Nimz said. “Even if we can't be with visitors, we can still interact with them.”
It's too soon to say when the library and museum can reopen, Nimz said, or what the terms would be.
“How do you maintain social distancing? What do you do with interactive programs at the museum? How about high-touch items in the children's area at the library? How do you make a jittery public comfortable to come back? How do we keep staff safe? There's a lot to figure out,” Nimz said.
Relph, the city manager, said reopening the library and museum are currently lower priorities than other city facilities, like city hall and the municipal courthouse. All face similar considerations around cleanliness and social distancing.
“As difficult as it was to decide to close things,” Relph said, “It will be 10-fold harder to figure out how to reopen things safely.”
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