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Checking out private partnership

Library system pondering exploring management outsourcing

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Checking out private partnership

Volunteer Yu Zhen Xio wipes down books before putting them back into sleeves at the Manteca Library.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED June 27, 2010 3:24 a.m.
E-books could come to the Manteca Library.

If that sounds a bit farfetched especially when the library is facing cutbacks to 40 hours from 48 hours after July 1 due to continued budget shortfalls, but that is happening in some other California public libraries such as Riverside County and Shasta County that are operated by the privately-owned Library Systems & Services (LSSI).

Partnering with LSSI is an option the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors as well as the Stockton City Council are considering in regards to the management and staffing of the countywide library system that excludes the City of Lodi.

Riverside County contracted with LSSI 11 years ago to assume day-to-day operations of its 25-branch that was struggling with a drastic financial situation that meant they would need to impose severe cutbacks in services, operating hours, and staff.

It was LSSI’s first venture partnering with a public library system. Eleven years later, book collections have expanded, hours have increased, and patronage is on the upswing with library operations being able to survive and thrive under a set budget.

Here is what happened in Riverside County where the dedicated tax rate the county contributed to the library system did not change from 1997 to 2010 under LSSI’s tutelage:

•Branches went from 25 to 33.

•Hours open per week went from 612 to 1,343.

•Circulation went from 1.9 million to 3.4 million annually.

•Number of staff in terms of full-time equivalents went from 125 to 214.

•The book budget went from $180,000 to $2.6 million a year.

•Annual visits jumped from 1.9 million to 3.1 million.

•program attendance rose from 20,844 to 127,717.

•adult program attendance increased from 1,082 to 61,204.

LSSI manages public libraries across the United States from large systems to a start-up library in a small Texas town of 1,200 near the border with Mexico.

At many Riverside County libraries a greeter will meet you at the door and ask if they can assist you.

Once you tell them you are looking for books on a particular subject such as California water politics, they will give you directions to where you can find books meeting your criteria. And while you’re on your way they will use a head set to alert the employee responsible for that section of the library that you’re on your way so they can be of further assistance

The “greeter” model may not work exactly that  way in a library Manteca’s size but it reflects the management-style of LSSI “to get employees out from behind the counter and desks” to interact more with patrons.

“We employ technology as much as possible to increase efficiencies,’ noted Robert E. Windrow.

As an example, they employ an electronic scanning system where workers track inventory by literally carrying a wand down book stacks where volumes have tiny electronic chips imbedded to drastically reduce time in keeping track of books.

Windrow noted technology is also embraced in LSSI’s approach to expanding library resources. Many of its branches are experimenting with E-books. The goal is to have a collection so E-book users can check out electronic versions of books just as they do traditional books.

Other technology includes access to a data base of all works in print that library systems can search to tailor make resources to the needs of their patrons. The firm also uses its combined purchasing power to get bigger breaks on prices of books and other collection material to further stretch government budgets.

Windrow emphasized that LSSI does not own the assets, does not set library policy, receives no fines, operates within budgets provided by public agencies, does not decide what titles are being added to collections, and works closely with Friends of Library groups.

The firm simply manages the library system and owns no assets.

Typically 80 to 90 percent of library staff is rehired
Library employees would be released from government employment and the interview for jobs with LSSI if the firm gets the outsourcing contract. In the past decade, LSSI has hired between 80 and 90 percent of the existing staff of library systems they take over. The employees become direct employees of LSSI and no longer are employed by the government.

Benefits are comparable to government with the exception of retirement as LSSI offers a 401(k) plan that matches a part of their employee contributions which is typically less generous than what government agencies offer.

The firm is located in, Maryland but each library it oversees is managed locally. One way they reduce operating costs is to use their headquarters office for support such as human resources, accounting, and technology.

LSSI notes that the average library they operate is usually open more than 50 hours a week while the average public library in the United States is open less than 50 hours a week. They also typically have what LSSI calls “convenient, community-focused hours plus a rich collection of electronic resources users can access from home.”

Automation as well as convenient self-service options for checking out books are key components of the LSSI model.

Currently the Stockton-San Joaquin County Library System that includes branches in Manteca, Ripon, and Lathrop as well as Weston Ranch is funded by both entities with Stockton managing the system.

The cities own the buildings and pay for maintenance and upkeep. Cities such as Manteca will often kick in funding for additional hours and books.

Manteca, for example, will continue to fund eight additional hours each week in the fiscal year starting July 1.

If that wasn’t the case, hours would go from 48 currently to 32 hours after county and Stockton budget cutbacks go into effect after July 1.
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