The Seattle Public Library has demoted (or “bumped”) a number of librarians to lower-salaried jobs, laid off a small number of temporary and non-represented student librarians, and is preparing a budget that would reduce librarian staffing to a bare minimum at the eight smallest SPL branches. But at odds with those attempts to save money, City Librarian Susan Hildreth planned to hand promotions and sizable raises to three upper management employees.

This morning, I met with Hildreth for an interview to address the complaints of anonymous SPL staffers who contacted The Stranger with this information. Hildreth stressed that the number of layoffs were low—“ one or two student librarians,” she says. Most of the demotions (Hildreth didn't have an exact number) entail reducing librarians to assistant managers. Hildreth estimated the salary will drop by five to seven thousand dollars annually per staffer.

Hildreth says she understands why librarians would be upset: “You may be managing the day-to-day operations of the branch, but you’re not going to be out there doing storytime or helping somebody find the next great read. That’s going to be challenging.”

So why, if the budget is so tight that SPL is demoting these people to lower-salaried positions, was Hildreth proposing a $25,000 raise for three assistant directors of Library Services, along with promotions to directors?

“Honestly, somebody could say, well, that timing wasn’t that great, and I wouldn’t disagree,” Hildreth says, but “My time here is going to be short.” (She has been nominated for director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services with the Obama administration, and believes there will “hopefully be movement on that” in the next few months.) That means it’s “Time to move forward with this, to be as transparent as possible.”

Did she consider giving out the promotions without the raises? “You know, I think that’s an interesting question…I guess I don’t mean to be insensitive in any way to anybody who’s been impacted by this process,” she says, but the raises are a way of “acknowledging the responsibility” that the three directors will take on in her absence. “$25,000 for a total of three people in a 50 million dollar budget is not that much money…but it does acknowledge that these people are working at a very high level in this organization. In acknowledging their commitment to this organization, I feel that some monetary increase is warranted. It’s kind of in a way a symbolic issue because it’s not a lot of money. But on the other side of the house, it’s like, wow, how could you do this?, because people have lost money and positions. But I think it’s not unreasonable.”

Three hours after our interview, SPL spokeswoman Caroline Young Ullmann let The Stranger know via e-mail "that the three library assistant directors you were asking Susan about today have decided to accept the additional responsibilities but decline any increase in salary at this time. They said that while they expect compensation for the positions to be addressed sometime in the future, they believe the financial health of the organization is the higher priority at present." Good for these directors; hopefully the funds will be reallocated to bring a few of the bumped librarians back up to full librarian status.

Information about SPL's upcoming cuts to teen and youth library services and reduced hours at 8 of the smallest branches will be addressed at a meeting of The Library Board of Trustees today at the Central Branch of Seattle Public Library at 4:30 pm.

When discussing the bumped employees, Hildreth points out that she did the best she could with the diminished budget she was handed. “I’m relieved that we were able to offer people continued employment. Probably in the next few years…we’re going to be able to bring those people back to the level where they were and possibly higher. They’re going to get some day-to-day management experience…and kind of a different view of what it’s like to manage the branches. The good news, if there is good news, is that the folks in those positions are going to see what it’s like to operate in that world…they’re going to be better experienced and have a better understanding of how the organization runs. A number of people will have gained a lot from that experience.”

SPL’s teen and youth services look to be disproportionately affected by the bumping. Hildreth says, “The library is committed to teens, but when you look at our seniority roster, a lot of our teen and youth services librarians were hired in the last 3 to 10 years.” The demotions were mostly issued by seniority, and so the youth librarians, who were hired in part because of a recent renewed focus on children’s literacy in SPL, took the brunt of the cuts.

Further, on-site librarian reference service will be reduced at the eight smallest SPL branches—Delridge, Fremont, International District/Chinatown, Madrona-Sally Goldmark, Montlake, New Holly, South Park, and Wallingford—to a bare minimum. SPL will refer to these eight as “gateway branches” to “reflect the new model,” Hildreth says. Librarians will ordinarily not be staffing the reference desks. (SPL’s proposed 2011 operating plan says librarian “assistance will be available at these branches at strategic times, mainly to coordinate youth programming, provide collections assistance, and lead outreach efforts” and that “Specialized reference services will be provided through Ask A Librarian, which offers reference assitance by phone, email or online chat.”)

The 4:30 Library Board meeting is open to the public. They will then have an executive meeting afterward to approve a library budget.