Tuesday, December 18, 2007

As posted by Nick Schenkel at the West Lafayette Public Library


Good afternoon!

I’ve been reading the comments far and wide that have been generated by the Blue Ribbon Commission report and I’d like to offer my own thoughts to the discussion.

In response to Connie Ozinga’s recent comments on this listserv, I. for one am not automatically opposed to the “streamlining local government” report or even those parts that address public libraries in particular.

But - let’s not destroy our strong public library system in Indiana in hopes of “re-forming” it.

What I am opposed to is the “one-size-fits-all” attitude the report takes when addressing local public libraries in our State.

Indiana’s public libraries work hard now to both provide nationally recognized library service and maintain tight budgets.*

Here is what concerns me about the report. Let’s look at the supposed “cost-savings” achieved by forcing all libraries into county-wide districts. The State Library’s own statistics show that the difference in cost-per-capita among large, medium, and small library districts is minor – and probably for good reason. All of us already strive to provide the best collections and services for the least cost to our communities.

How then, does the “streamlining local government” report get from that statistical fact to the facile presumption that eliminating our current system of co-existing smaller and larger library districts in favor of county-wide libraries will be more cost-saving?

I fear that there is only one real cost-saving way county-wide libraries could operate: given the tight library budgets that already exist and the tremendous amount of shared purchasing, continuing education, and computer services that already go on among almost all Indiana public libraries, to save any REAL library costs, the State government will have to demand that we close existing library buildings and eliminate existing library staff.**

That is NOT the way to build strong and responsive libraries for Hoosiers!

So, instead of the draconian, one-size-fits-all-communities called for in the “streamlining of local government report” – I recommend all of us in the Indiana library community respond POSITIVELY and say yes this report is worthwhile – then take the lead ourselves in bringing cost-savings to local public libraries.

Here are some ideas to move us forward as we work to bring cost-savings to our public libraries:

· INCREASE the size of public library boards to provide broader local representation in taxing and policy making,

· Allow communities to choose to elect their library board members – again, to increase local control of taxing and policy making,

· Develop regional “goal setting” library boards to set long range goals – and budget parameters that fit those goals - for libraries in a multi-county area.

· Expand regional and State level cost-saving programs through INCOLSA and the State Library – put significant State money behind efforts to encourage regional sharing of staff, computer and other administrative services as determined by regional agreements,

· Develop groups of local libraries and give these groups significant (not paper thin) financial and governing incentives to work with each other based on local needs.

To my mind some Indiana libraries already pursue many of these possibly cost-saving initiatives right now – let’s take the lead in crafting thoughtful and wide-ranging expansion of these – and other – possibly cost-saving efforts.

Will this cost the State some money to get such initiatives started? Probably yes.

Will it save our local communities money in the long run? It seems to me that those who say “larger library districts” are “less expensive” would say yes – so let’s take that idea seriously and try “larger is better” through real-world programs that respect local autonomy but demand regional effort.

Let’s test these ideas in Indiana! We’ll be taking the cost-saving aspects of the “streamlining local government” report seriously –as we ought to - and, if “larger is better” DOES serve to reduce costs AND expand library services and collections; we can proceed to take the lead in crafting the next steps for public libraries in our State.

Respectfully submitted,

Nick Schenkel, West Lafayette Public Library

*Let’s remember that those local library budgets are ultimately approved by the State’s Department of Local Government Finance annually – now.

** I am – and I hope others are - certainly open to reading/hearing other real-world means to achieve significant cost savings by Indiana libraries short of closing buildings and eliminating staff!

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