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County checking out LSSI
Library proposal: More hours, less cost
San Joaquin County is mulling a proposal that could end up privatizing branch libraries such as the one serving Manteca. - photo by Bulletin file photo
A private firm is proposing to reduce costs at least 21 percent and extend branch hours by as much as 47 percent if they are awarded a contract to take over the San Joaquin County-operated libraries.

County-funded libraries that include Manteca, Ripon, Lathrop, and Escalon among others are part of the Stockton-San Joaquin County Library. The county has set aside $5.2 million for the current fiscal year to cover their share of costs of the library system that is administered by the City of Stockton in conjunction with their municipal branches.

County staff has been analyzing a proposal from Library Systems & Services (LSSI) that includes three options; taking over operations of the system intact, the second only to operate the county libraries and the final one which is overseeing just the Stockton libraries. LSSI presented two separate proposals for each option.

LSSI has submitted two proposals to operate the eight county libraries as a standalone operation. Currently it costs the county $5.2 million for 209 hours of library service a week. LSSI has indicated it could provide 223 hours of service each week at the eight county branches for $3,789,707 or 328 hours for $4,478,707.

The LSSI proposal also notes the savings from running both the city and county libraries could range between $1.8 million and $3 million a year depending upon whether hours are significantly increased. In that case, the firm said the library - under elected leaders’ directive - would have a reserve to spend money for large purchases, repairs and the refurbishment of the library facilities, systems and furnishings.

The county picks up the tab for staffing and materials while the respective cities provide the buildings, pay for utilities and perform ongoing maintenance.

The Board of Supervisors is looking at a private contractor to run the system in light of ongoing budget constraints and a desire to improve service levels.

Several Friends of the Library groups including Manteca’s organization have come out adamantly opposed to privatization. The various Friends groups believe the only way LSSI can obtain such savings to increase hours and start stockpiling a reserve is to cut staff and reduce salaries which they equate to reduced levels of service.

Among new technology that LSSI said the county might want to consider obtaining with future reserves include:

•networked printing capability to centralize printing in each library and eliminate wasted paper and ink.

•computer scheduling system to enable customers to reserve computers online.

•a library cash management system to allow customers to pay library fines and fees over the internet and to use credit cards.

•radio-frequency identification technology to provide more accurate inventory plus to enable the use of self-checkout stations.

•more and better use of self-check technology.

•a systematic replacement of computer software to resemble computers that customers use at home as well as to eliminate computer breakdowns and computers being out of service.

LSSI already operates public library systems in Riverside County and Shasta County as well as throughout the United States.

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 drastic 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 an upswing with library operations being able to survive and thrive under a set budget.

Bob Windrow of LSSI indicated that Library employees would be released from government employment and have then 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. Pension plans are a huge factor in municipal, county, and stat deficits up and down California.

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.

A scoring summary conducted by the county gave the LSSI proposal 90.7 out of 200 possible points.  Meanwhile, the City of Stockton staff gave it a 70.65 for a combined weighted score of 82.6.

The proposal was judged based on breadty of experience, management and services experience, new contract expertise, professional qualifications, ability to meet specifications, references, level of fees, and level of service.