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Andy Pattantyus: Let citizens decide our local library’s future

Right Here, Right Now

Posted: December 2, 2010 10:12 p.m.
Updated: December 3, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

On Aug. 24, the Santa Clarita’s City Council wrested control of the local libraries from the county. How do we make the best of it?  The last of this four-part series defines realistic spending levels along with a method of linking taxpayer revenues to performance.

When it comes to libraries, I am no visionary. However, I have been fortunate to experience the best of the best, both as a patron and as a volunteer director.

I know what I like and what excellence looks like. I know that producing good results is hard work.

This is that rare moment in time when anything is possible. Our citizens must set the tone and tenor for our new city library system. Let’s set the bar high. There is no reason that our libraries can’t be absolute jewels, on par with so many other outstanding civic works produced by Santa Clarita.

To move forward toward excellence, we must now come up with answers to several critical questions. Who are the customers, and what do they want? Each demographic group has different needs and interests. Defining the target market requires market research, just as a commercial company would do. What services should be offered? In the electronic age, we are talking about more than books.

To provide the desired service level, complementary fixtures (return drop boxes) must be provided to improve convenience, eliminate trips, reduce the number of miles driven and reduce the amount of time waiting in line. Clearly, the amount of library space and number of locations are deficient. To provide the desired service level, we must determine how many library locations and how much library space is needed to serve the large population of our valley.

We can measure service level performance starting with the 15 Hennen’s American Public Library Rating measures, but that by itself is not enough, since many essential electronic services and delivery methods are not yet included. At No. 1-rated Cuyahoga County Public Library, only 57 percent of the circulated materials were print items.

Good governance (accountability system) is needed to assure performance. I think we should control and operate the system locally, rather than rely on a contract management company. Start with a top-notch library director reporting to a board of trustees made up of volunteer citizens from Santa Clarita’s tax base.

 We will need managers of IT, programs, holdings, community services, facilities, and customer service. A systematic and rigorous master plan for facilities and services assures growth to maintain service. Marketing and public relations will attract nonusers to become library patrons. The library system should be kept on a short financial leash, tied to a specific library operating levy renewable by voters every five years. Bond levies will not pass unless the library system consistently delivers exceptional service and presents a comprehensive long term master plan.

The citizens of Santa Clarita believe too much money is flowing out of Santa Clarita for too little service and performance in return. Per HALPR 2010, the Los Angeles County Public Library system spends only $28 per capita per year, while the top-rated libraries spend $90 to $100 per capita per year.

 A fabulous value, the $100 per capita library-operating levy is approved every five years by western Cuyahoga County citizens with an overwhelming 78 percent of the vote.

Even a rate of $100 per capita per year is dirt cheap, compared to costs of obtaining from other sources a fraction of the resources and services. For some, either the services they need are not offered, or use requires too much time because of low service levels. Because they are paying taxes and get little or nothing in return, even $28 per year is too expensive for these patrons.

 If the SCV library system delivers exemplary customer service, the citizens will be delighted to pay for it.

The Los Angeles County Public Library has been able to keep its costs (and taxes) low at the expense of service. Now, an appropriate governance model can directly connect the library system to the needs and demands of the patrons. If we set things up correctly, the citizens will be able to decide how much library service they are really willing to pay for.

Andy Pattantyus lives and works in Santa Clarita and is the president of Strategic Modularity Inc. Andy once served on the board of trustees of the Rocky River Public Library in Ohio. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. Contact him at ipattant@gmail.com.

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