Time to Think Outside the Library Box

Richard Rider, Chairman, San Diego Tax Fighters Richard Rider, Chairman, San Diego Tax Fighters 5 Comments

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San Diego Tax Fighters

****Press Release ****

Authored by Richard Rider, Chairman

Phone: 858-530-3027

1-18-2011

Time to Think Outside the Library Box

San Diego – As this week’s dreary reports from Sacramento confirm, our state and local governments are by necessity cutting library funding. But do such cuts necessitate commensurate cuts in library service? The answer is “no.” We need to consider contracting out the operation of public libraries – as did Riverside County in 1997.

San Diego County has a number of public library systems open to the general public. Two operations are quite large – the San Diego County and San Diego City libraries. In addition, the cities of Carlsbad, Chula Vista, Oceanside, Coronado, Escondido and National City each have their own library systems.

Without exception, each jurisdiction’s library department has become a swelling financial drain on taxpayers. A byproduct has been the reduction of the hours of operation. This expanding cost – reflecting primarily the mushrooming compensation packages for public library employees – has been a growing problem in good times. During this recession, it’s become a much bigger problem.

It’s time to consider an alternative way of delivering library services. There is a company – LSSI – that operates public and private libraries. They improve the service, hours of operation and customer satisfaction. And they can do it for less cost.

We’re not talking about selling off the libraries. Normally the government contracting with LSSI still owns the buildings and materials. But LSSI takes over the operation of the library – meeting the criteria set by the government.

One does not have to go far to see how well this alternative works. In 1996 Riverside County was facing operational difficulties, and so it contracted with LSSI to run their (currently) 33 branch libraries and two bookmobiles. Coincidentally, that’s the same number of branch libraries and bookmobiles now operated by the San Diego County library system.

The results have been well received in Riverside County – by both patrons and politicians. Here’s a 2008 article by the former Riverside County Head Librarian Gary Christmas, MLS – who oversaw the transition, and who now has nothing but praise for the results:
http://www.lssi.com/news/backin.pdf.
Christmas also prepared for Riverside County a more detailed analysis of the LSSI experience that was published June, 2010.
http://www.rivlib.net/downloads/whitepaper2010.pdf

Read the LSSI summary of their success story below.

But first, go to the LSSI website http://www.lssi.com/approach.html. In particular, watch their seven minute video. Click on the button “View Video.” Yes, it’s a promotion piece, but is has interviews with city managers, mayors and county supervisors who laud their services. It’s really quite illuminating.

The Riverside County Example

With 33 library branches, Riverside County, CA is easily the largest government library customer for LSSI. LSSI has operated the Riverside County libraries since 1996, and apparently is highly regarded in that county. The following is LSSI’s promotional Riverside County summation, available on their website:

http://www.lssi.com/riverside.html

Riverside County, California, operates 33 branch libraries and two bookmobiles serving a high growth population approaching 1 million residents in 13 cities across an area approximately the size of Massachusetts.

For more than 80 years, Riverside County contracted with the City of Riverside for library services. The library system was administered by a city-appointed Board of Library Trustees, all City of Riverside residents.

When a state mandated shift of property taxes resulted in funding reductions affecting the county libraries in the mid ‘90s, the individual cities and Riverside County Board of Supervisors sought more direct control. As a result, in 1996 the City of Riverside did not renew its contract to operate the County Library System and the County had only six months to develop an alternative plan.

The County issued an innovative and ground-breaking RFP seeking optimal library services within an established budget. After a comprehensive selection process, LSSI was selected to operate the County Library System. Riverside became the first library system in the nation to outsource its library operations to a private firm.

Through careful monitoring and control of the contract process, LSSI and the County have been able to increase library services without changing funding sources, increased taxes or additional fees. All former library system employees found positions for the same base pay rate and retained vacation time and accruals.

Key operational benefits in Riverside County of the LSSI managed system include:

* · Expansion of the library system from 24 to 33 library sites
* · Expansion of local employment opportunities from 119 local employees to 193
* · More than doubling of total weekly hours of operation from 618 hrs/wk to 1380 hrs/wk
* · Increase of book budget allocation from $180K to $1.95M$5M in additional grant funding
* · Automation partnership with San Bernardino County, greatly increasing circulation access
* · Development of early literacy program
* · Establishment of ESL classes to meet community requirement
* · Development of Latino outreach program, “Leer es triunfar” (Reading is succeeding)
* · Winner of a 2005 John Cotton Dana Library Award

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If our politicians ever decide that our cities and counties are supposed to be run for the public rather than for the public EMPLOYEES, we can start pursuing alternative methods of delivering government services – such as LSSI. Since our local governments are running out of financial alternatives, perhaps that time is close upon us. We certainly hope that such is the case.

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Comments 5

  1. There is no such thing as a great LSSI library. LSSI takes terrible libraries and makes them mediocre. The San Diego County Library is already a great library system and has expanded hours in recent years, which you would have found out if you had bothered to do any research. SDCL outperforms Riverside County in every measurement of library success. The County of San Diego is one of the best managed counties in the nation and it is unconscionable to dump the County’s management in the same boat with that of the City of San Diego.

  2. Post
    Author

    Good to know, Zelda. So I’m sure that you’ll agree that, as a result of their sterling, efficient performance, the city and county libraries (and their “public servant” employees) should have nothing to fear from managed competition. Indeed, such great government operations should be looking forward to going head-to-head with a private competitor.

    And — oh yeah — there’s that cost thingy to consider.

  3. Post
    Author

    There will always be a demand for lending libraries, though that demand will likely drop from year to year. Most of the rest of what libraries do can be done elsewhere — or on computers.

    Research is no longer a meaningful library function. Most of what a typical library does is to provide a reading club for a very few city residents, combined with a day care center in the afternoon.

    But we can come up with solutions in schools for that day care problem It’s amazing to think of all the school libraries that are closed at 2:30 PM — not to mention locking away the hundreds of school computers from students.

    Of course, there is a small but vociferous group that lives in the past — fondly remembering their childhood days in the library. And some LOVE their comfy taxpayer-paid club to hang out in. No dues!

  4. Post
    Author

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