Stella Byrne took a job at the Southside Branch Library in December 2017 to help foster a safe, fun place for Santa Feans.

That's proved frustrating, so have other issues with the job. So, she's leaving.

Now, as her resignation date approaches, Byrne lays out her concerns over poor management, understaffing and a dearth of library programs that reflect the Southside's varied cultures at the branch off Jaguar Drive in a series of interviews and text messages with SFR.

The staff shortage in particular has impacted library patrons, Byrne says, because "someone might not have time to help them adequately, it might take longer for books to get back on the shelves" and overburdened employees sometimes dole out "inconsistent information."

Records provided by the city to SFR after a request under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act support several of Byrne's claims.

For example: The Southside library staff is short by four key workers, including the library services director, a part-time librarian, a part-time library technician and a full-time library technician. That's despite more than $100,000 in the branch's $1 million budget for the current fiscal year sitting unspent.

And by comparison, it appears the Southside library is getting less attention from the city than the other two branches.

The main library branch downtown is down just one position—a library section manager—and the Midtown La Farge branch is hiring one part time library technician.

The whole system has a staffing shortage.

In the technical services department, the city needs to hire a library services director, a full-time librarian, a library systems manager and a part-time temporary librarian.

But the Southside location has battled with the most understaffing and has been "unmanaged" with "one manager doing the job of two people," Byrne tells SFR.

"I don't think we've been at 100% the entire time I've worked here. … but seriously understaffed over the last year," Byrne, who has worked as a library tech, writes in a text message. The "missing manager position is from someone retiring a year ago. There should be a library section manager here in addition to a circulation manager."

Byrne's experience opens an insider's window on difficulties at the Southside library, but they are well-known among city administrators.

The incoming library director hopes to add more programming to the Southside library and community outreach.
The incoming library director hopes to add more programming to the Southside library and community outreach. | Katherine Lewin
The incoming library director hopes to add more programming to the Southside library and community outreach.

There's a candidate under consideration to fill the branch's open management position, and interviews are being conducted for "some" of the other vacancies, meeting minutes from the most recent Public Library Board meeting on July 17 show. Filling the library division director vacancy—which has been open since longtime director Patricia Hodapp took medical leave in November 2018—was the city's priority.

Maria Sanchez-Tucker starts later this month in that post. Her first day is Aug. 19, and she says she'll work with the library board to fill the branch's vacant positions.

When asked what she hoped to do with the Southside library, Sanchez-Tucker says she has experience engaging low-income communities at libraries. Many of her ideas match the concerns raised by Byrne. She tells SFR she hopes to bring multi-generational programs that can bring adults and their children to the Southside library—and a Latino book festival and summer reading programs.

That would match the library's place in the community, Byrne says.

"This library plays an important role in the neighborhood and it could be supported in collaboration with other city and community groups. It could be more deeply rooted in the community," Byrne tells SFR, adding that the branch "serves a huge number of people."

She also hopes to see the Southside branch start programs for adults, teach older students and the youth at the Boys and Girls Club across the street how to use the library's services. Southside residents would be better served if the city would prioritize hiring bilingual librarians, of which there are currently none, Byrne says.

The city has taken some steps to look into improving the library system, such as contracting an assessment company to conduct a planning study. According to city documents, the library board must meet with the company two more times before the results come before the City Council.

Despite staffing and administrative struggles, the Southside library remains a community staple for the area, nestled between several schools, housing and the Boys and Girls Club.

On a busy, burning hot Monday afternoon, Ericka Kidde sits on a low wall out front of the library with her oldest daughter, Raven. Her younger daughter is still inside getting books. Kidde tells SFR she's brought her children here once a week or more since 12 years ago, including when she brought her daughters to the Books and Babies program.

Raven's only complaint is that sometimes the library doesn't have complete series of books she's reading, but she loves coming to the Southside branch.

"The kids have grown up here, leaving with a stack of books," Kidde says. "It's a cool gathering place for parents and young children, too."

"I think [the library] is amazing for this community because that's Section 8 housing right there," Kidde continues, gesturing across the street from the entrance to the library. "To have a safe place for your kids to go after school and during the summertime I think is a huge gift. I think it's keeping a lot of kids safe and out of trouble."