Donald W. Ricketts | Lessons from Library Transition

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

In 2009 the three Santa Clarita libraries (Newhall, Valencia and Canyon Country) were part of the L.A. County Public Library system. That allowed Santa Clarita residents to borrow from the county’s mas-sive 7.5 million volumes of materials and, equally important, cost the city nothing. Santa Clarita’s share of the library-dedicated property taxes collected by the county and a special library tax of $28 a parcel produced a revenue surplus.

In late 2009 and early 2010 the new, dark, mau-soleum-like 30,000-square-foot Newhall library (to replace the existing 4,500 square foot library), was nearing completion and discussions were underway between the city and county about staffing, furnish-ing and stocking it. The county advised that it could not staff, furnish and stock such a large facility, and negotiations ended in the spring of 2010.

On July 13, 2010, then-Councilwoman Laurie Ender asked the council to consider a resolution to withdraw from the county library. She stated:

“We’ve looked at the amount of the library cash revenue that the county of Los Angeles has collected from our residents, and we note that more money is collected in local library taxes … than is spent in our local libraries every year.

“If the city were to assume the responsibility for our local library services, we could use all the local library tax dollars to do a lot of different things. We could increase the hours of the Canyon Country and Newhall libraries by 10 hours, at each branch, every week. … We could also use the money to help pay for the construction of the Newhall Library, which would free up the redevelopment funds for use on other redevelopment projects in Old Town Newhall.

“Or… we could use the funds to build a bigger library for the Valencia Library, which is severely impacted by being too small a facility. There are an awful lot of options to consider. And all of them ben-efit the community.”

Over widespread opposition, the city withdrew from the county library and established the Santa Clarita Public Library. (The opposition expressed itself again by resoundingly defeating Ender in the next election.)

None of the benefits forecast by Ms. Ender came to pass. Ender (and her cosponsor, Councilwoman Marsha McLean) and Deputy City Manager Darren Hernandez, the architect and manager of the with-drawal, made a stupid mistake. They failed to appre-ciate that the special library tax of $28 per parcel was a county tax that the city would not receive once it was no longer part of the county system.

In fiscal year 2009-10, the last year the libraries were part of the county system, Santa Clarita re-ceived $1.4 million in special library tax revenue. By withdrawing, the city has lost revenue (not counting growth in new homes since 2010) of $15 million. Withdrawal also required expenditures in excess of $1 million in startup costs to rebuild the collections, to purchase new technology to manage the new sub-scribers (everyone had to get a new library card) and keep track of borrowing, to purchase new computers to connect the public to the web, etc.

As part of the withdrawal the city contracted with Library System Services Inc. to operate the newly formed Santa Clarita Public Library and allow inter-library borrowing utilizing LSSI’s network of librar-ies. But over two and a half years, according to City Manager Ken Striplin, LSSI’s “service has not met the city’s high expectations.”

On Jan. 9, 2018, the city voted to not renew LSSI’s contract and to take over management of the library effective July 1, 2018.

The loss of $15 million in revenue and LSSI’s and, now, the city’s management of the libraries has been devastating. It has reduced the Santa Clarita Public Library from a first-rate to a third-rate institution.

Equaling, perhaps, the loss of $15 million in spe-cial library taxes and the huge startup costs and con-tinuing expenditures on the library, has been the ef-fective loss of inter-library borrowing rights.

In addition to inter-library borrowing rights through LSSI’s libraries, the city had also contracted with Southern California Library Cooperative to al-low patrons to borrow books the library did not have. Termination of the LSSI contract left SCLC as the only means for patrons to borrow books from other libraries. During FY 2018-19, SCLC facilitated no loans to or from the Santa Clarita Public Library, ac-cording to the library’s response to an annual ques-tionnaire from the State Librarian.

This situation is exacerbated by the small size of the library’s collection: 334,313 total materials. The collection is well below the average size of the col-lections of the five libraries that also have between 120,000 and 125,000 registered borrowers: 839,296.

The result is that Santa Clarita is book-poor. Other key indicators of performance from the State Librarian’s survey demonstrate the library’s decline:

Total capital income outlay was $0 compared to an average of $345,544 for the five like libraries.

The number of internet terminals in the Santa Clari-ta Public Library was 169 vs. 204.

Santa Clarita’s total number of subscriptions to print media (newspapers, periodicals, annual reports, yearbooks and proceedings) was 94 compared to the like- libraries’ average of 398.

The total number of programs for the public held by the Santa Clarita Library was 2,107; the five like libraries held an average of 3,344.

Total persons employed has been cut to the bone: 81 compared to the like-libraries’ average of 118.

Persons employed in the library received only 51% of the compensation paid to their counterparts: $3.3 million vs. $6.5 million.

The library is, under the law, run by a board 

of trustees. At the time the library was created in 2010, the City Council appointed themselves as the trustees.

In the two years the city has operated the library, 

in only four of 48 joint meetings of the City Coun-cil and the library’s board of trustees (i.e., the City Council) has library business been discussed: Ap-pointment of two council members to the library’s board of trustees and approval of contracts for the purchase of books, electronic materials, hold lockers and self-check kiosks. The result has been that Her-nandez has run the library – and is responsible for its deficiencies.

The city deserves an independent board of trust-ees to replace Mr. Hernandez and his Department of Neighborhood Services as overseers of the library.

The human cost of (these) empire-building machi-nations equal the monetary cost. Approximately 200 people lost their jobs when the city withdrew from the county system and when they “fired” LSSI. Few were rehired. They deserve, at least, an apology, as do the citizens of this city who were hoodwinked into believing that withdrawal from the county and taking over management of the library would be a boon to the city.

Donald W. Ricketts 

Santa Clarita

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