Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The latest news on library consolidation

This just in and to all of those who said it was not being considered please read on.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Local Government Reform's report is now available at http://indianalocalgovreform.iu.edu/assets/docs/Report_12-10-07.pdf. Recommendations 18-20 (of 26) specifically address public libraries. The State Library is reviewing each recommendation and encourages others to do the same.

Recommendations 18-20 read as follows:

Recommendation #18: Reorganize library systems by county and provide permanent library service for all citizens.

Indiana has 239 library districts serving communities ranging from approximately 250 to 833,000 in population. Many library districts, large and small, provide excellent library service. In fact, in 2004, Indiana libraries ranked second overall, and at or near the top 20 in 22 national benchmarks on services, collection, revenue and expenditures published by the National Center for Education Statistics. Libraries are important community assets that provide a variety of specific services based on local needs.

The overarching goal of libraries should be to maximize access to services, materials and other information resources at the lowest possible cost. The use of aggregated statistics alone masks a number of access, performance and cost-inefficiency issues. Currently, an estimated 395,000 citizens in 38 counties do not have access to library services in the communities in which they live; 29 counties contain territory that is ―underserved by contractual library service. Indiana libraries employ almost twice as many staff (full-time equivalents) per 10,000 population than the national average.

In recent years, the General Assembly prohibited the creation of new library districts serving less than 10,000 people. Almost three-fifths (136) of all districts serve populations of less than 10,000. These small districts serve less than 9 percent of the population and account for only 8 percent of total statewide circulation. Small districts make up large proportions of those exceeding the state average for operating expenditures and staffing per 1,000 population and for cost per circulation. In 2006, 15 library districts serving populations of 5,050 or less were cited for failing to meet minimal state standards.

A better balance between cost and service can be achieved. We recommend the mandated reorganization of library districts across the state into 92 countywide systems, with the option to reorganize into multi-county districts when prudent. By reducing the number of districts, we can address current unserved and underserved areas and achieve additional economies of scale within administrative and purchasing expenditures.

This responsibility should be assigned to the county executive. In Marion County, this responsibility should be assigned to the mayor. We further recommend the establishment 34 of grant funding to offset the significant technology costs that may accrue in converting and merging current systems.

Indiana has too many library districts and administrators, but Indiana does not have too many libraries. We recommend maintaining the current mix of geographically dispersed facilities to allow districts to serve local populations and needs. We recommend that the process begin immediately.

Recommendation #19: Require that the budgets and bonds of library and all other special districts be approved by the fiscal body of the municipal or county government containing the greatest proportion of assessed value in the unit seeking approval.

Libraries and other special districts are independent local governments governed by ex-officio and appointed members, rather than by officials elected directly by the voters. Many, although not all, have the power to levy property taxes and issue debt. Taxpayers have indicated frustration with the gap in accountability created by such enormous fiscal powers in the hands of non-elected officials.

We believe that the most direct way to address taxpayer frustration is to create an external local approval process for the budgets and debt for these local governments. We recommend that the fiscal body of the county (in the case of unincorporated areas) or municipality containing the most assessed value within the unit boundaries approve all budgets and the issuance of all bonds with input from citizens and taxpayers. We note that our proposed solution is different in kind but not in principle from the powers designed for the county board of tax and capital projects review. We conclude that fiscal restraint may work best in the hands of existing city and county councils that already are known to the public.

Recommendation #20: Strengthen the current joint purchasing infrastructure for libraries.

Indiana libraries have a number of longstanding statewide, regional and local arrangements for the provision of joint training, purchasing and services. While much attention has been focused on the Indiana Cooperative Library Services Authority as the result of the PROBE study conducted by Indiana Office of Management and Budget, there are additional joint resources and service arrangements that deserve review regarding effectiveness and cost.

We recommend that the Indiana State Library continue its work to review, update and expand statewide purchasing and service arrangements to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of library services across the state.

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