State library report praised as a plan for moving forward

Richard DuPertuis

Siskiyou County Supervisors heard suggestions last week about short-term measures for bridging the current library crisis to long-term measures for preventing such crises in the future.

A PowerPoint report by state library “superheroes” George Needham and Joan Frye Williams ended with recommendations, including one to continue emergency funding to allow county libraries to regroup and retool.

Afterward, supervisors voted unanimously to move ahead with the plan.

Contacted by phone a week later, county librarian Lisa Musgrove said that Needham and Williams had taken turns presenting PowerPoint point slides to an enthusiastic board and to an audience that filled the chamber, with a few people standing.

Going by a copy of the PowerPoint file posted on the county library website, the presentation opened with Needham and Williams detailing how they had gathered information. They said they reviewed historical and statistical data, learned current operations, visited with library friends from all county libraries and discussed options with elected officials and other community leaders.

The two library experts described a modern, streamlined library system founded upon a backbone facility that would serve the 11 community branches. In this capacity, the backbone would operate only as a warehouse with no public access and with minimal staff positions: county librarian, circulation coordinator, virtual services coordinator and delivery coordinator.

They said all of these processes could be supplemented by volunteers.

Moving away from

traditional library model

Much of their presentation demonstrated how person-to-person interaction could be replaced by automated features, ranging from a 24-hour kiosk for both check out and receiving returns to self-service check-out and check-in apparatus set up at local branches. Instructions for how to use these new models of library service would be available online.

Repeatedly they stressed cashless fines and fees, payable only online.

They allowed for public perception of the more traditional community library model by allotting a minimum of 20 hours per week access to library staff and targeted, per community programs and services.

The community library would offer a well-rounded, on-site collection, supplemented with materials from the backbone facility. Delivery to the library could be synchronized with and accomplished by the county bus system. In smaller communities now lacking a library, deliveries could instead be made to a designated drop point.

A drop point, as described by Musgrove, would be a spot in a community where library patrons could pick up books at a place other than a library building. For example, a grocery store or post office could set aside space for a drop point. Patrons could accept delivery of pre-ordered books at this site at a pre-determined time. Or, if staffing permitted, the drop point could hold materials for more convenient and flexible deliveries during its normal business hours.

From here to there:

A scalable system

The “Getting from here to there” portion of the report detailed the transition from  what exists today to what could be tomorrow. The experts listed steps to achieve this, including regrouping, creating the backbone on a new platform, connecting local services to the backbone and building from the new foundation.

Regrouping saw the local branches operating in some ways as they do now, but with temporary suspension of services such as deliveries, children's programs and reference systems as the backbone system was readied.

Building from the new foundation referred to the scalability offered by such a system. Smaller communities might begin with only a drop point in town, but depending on growth of need and funding availability, services could be upgraded to more drop points, perhaps the establishment of a full-service community library. Needs and level of service would be tailored specifically community to community.

“It's all in the very early stages of development,” said Musgrove. “Basically it depends on what we can afford and what the county can afford to give us.”

What will it cost?

How will funds be raised?

The cost for this transition was estimated at $165,000 for the county's share of the regroup, plus $15,000 for each county branch. Cost for the first year of creating the backbone would be $375,000, plus $21,000 per local site. After that, the estimated annual cost for maintaining the new system would come in at about $400,000, plus $15,000 per site.

For raising these funds, Needham and Williams offered options. First was a designated library parcel or sales tax county-wide.

Similarly, local communities could institute parcel or sales taxes to cover their shares. Another possibility was setting up private donations via a 501(c)(3) library foundation.

The state library experts also offered options that would change library governance, such as library special districts or joint powers agencies, formed by special agreement between two or more governing bodies.

Needham and Williams advised the supervisors to recognize that emergency level funding is not sustainable funding. They recommended that the county give local governments clear information about its intentions and time for the branches to decide how to proceed.

The report is available online at Questions or comments can be emailed to:?

“It's all good, especially from where we were four months ago,” Musgrove said. “There's a plan now to help us move forward.”