WGRL Faces Challenges

Press Release date May 4, 2020

Wythe-Grayson Regional Library Faces Challenges

The last few months have presented unique challenges to households, businesses and governments not seen in generations. This past week, a record 22 million Americans were listed
as unemployed, a level not seen since the Great Depression. Across the nation and inSouthwest Virginia, life and commerce has been brought to a standstill as we collectively attempt to defeat a microscopic but deadly enemy.

Unfortunately, local public libraries are not immune to this crisis or virus. In an effort to ensure public safety as well as remain compliant with state and federal orders, Wythe-Grayson Regional Library has been closed to the public since mid-March and there is currently no definite reopen
date in sight.

“The decision to close our doors was extremely difficult, as I consider our services to be essential, however, I also feel a responsibility to keep our employees and patrons safe,” said
Mary Thomas, director of the regional library system. All library employees have enjoyed paid leave since March 19, 2020, to the present, as it was
initially hoped that the shutdown would only last a few short weeks and normal life would quickly resume.

Sadly, this has not been the case and nearly twelve weeks will have passed by the time the June lockdown order is lifted and even then, public libraries in Virginia will face an uncharted new world where the scope of operations may be severely limited or extraordinarily different.

“We are extremely proud of the dedicated and passionate individuals who serve on staff at our regional libraries; however, it has become clear that it simply is not financially sustainable to keep employees on the payroll indefinitely while the library is closed or their services are no longer being utilized – especially when it is clear that when we do re-open our doors things will
be entirely different from how they were previously,” said Thomas, adding, “For us the choice is basically, do we continue paying all library staff members indefinitely while the library is closed or lay them off in an effort to save our public libraries in Wythe and Grayson Counties – These are our two options.”

Thomas said she made the difficult decision to lay off all part-time workers rather than furlough them, which would guarantee a job once things resumed because at this stage, it is not clear
that there will be work for the library employees once the library does reopen or that the budget will allow for such employees.

“It would be unfair to the workers if we told them they were going to be furloughed, knowing that we don’t believe there will be work for them to return to or that funding will exist to keep
their positions in the months ahead,” stated Thomas.

With trillions of dollars’ worth of wealth erased from existence over the past several months, local governments in Virginia are experiencing revenue shortfalls not seen in nearly a century –
tourism revenues, the lifeblood of many communities, is virtually non-existent, and local courts are closed.

Local libraries have already begun feeling the financial woes as fines, which have served as a significant source of revenue for branches have ceased due to weeks of library doors being
shuttered. The result is a perfect storm that has tasked governing boards across the nation with the unenviable job of navigating a perilous fiscal landscape.

“This decision was not arrived at lightly or without extensive research. Our hearts break for the pain our decision has caused for our part-time employees, but we also have a responsibility to the taxpayers who are also suffering greatly,” concluded Thomas.


Contact: Judy Buck, Chair WGRL Board of Trustees at jhbuck@centurylink.net