Library reorganization deserves more discussion

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Opinion published in Santa Cruz Sentinel on Oct. 2, 2011
By Rene Belling

When the Joint Powers Board meets Oct. 3 to vote on staffing changes at the ten public library branches serving Santa Cruz County, there will be a lot of discussion about “reorganization” of library positions, which is a euphemism for changing what workers do and how they’re compensated.

But the changes concern more than just staffing. They will fundamentally alter our community’s relationship with its public libraries. And that is a change that warrants continued robust public discussion and input.

Let’s start with what we all can agree on: Public libraries anchor a community. From early literacy programs to senior outreach services, our Santa Cruz Public Libraries touch lives and leave a lasting imprint. One in five residents make use of our libraries. The services they access range from checking out books and DVDs, taking computer classes offered by the reference staff, downloading e-books to their Kindles and iPads, to bringing their babies to their very first storytime.

Under the proposed model, services will be centralized. Patrons would be able to access a “virtual” branch. Need to see a reference librarian? Skype your question, or make an appointment to see a librarian in person. Library branches will be staffed mostly by temporary workers and volunteers. In theory, quality service will not change, and the public will barely notice a difference.

But there will be a difference. The public will notice that their favorite library clerk is no longer there to help them, and that they have to wait longer to get personalized service.

So, here are some questions for the library board:

Why does the board want to decimate the ranks of permanent library clerks, who are knowledgeable and experienced, and replace them with temporary library aides?

Why would the Board consider overhauling a system without asking for input from the people on the ground, the staff delivering quality services, the people who know the system best, the people with the greatest level of connection to the people of the community?

Libraries are a haven for those needing Internet access, educational materials, or help with job searches. Taxpayers prize public libraries; that is why they voted yes to Measure R in 2008, providing approximately $6.5 million a year in revenues to the system before the recession hit.

Change can be good, but not when it compromises quality services. The proponents of the new library model have not shown that the changes they seek would not harm the programs, services, and staffing of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries.

Does the public really want mediocre library service, or do they want to continue to have the superior service currently available? The public should make this important decision.

Rene Belling is a library assistant for the Santa Cruz City County Library System.

Related Articles:

October 3, 2011
Community calls for Library Board transparency, accountability
Media Advisory: Santa Cruz library workers and community members will address the Library Joint Powers Authority Board tonight to call for more public and staff input before a proposed reorganization model is implemented.
Read more »

Sept. 30, 2011 | Photo album: Making signs for the Santa Cruz Libraries rally

Sept. 29, 2011 | Take Action: Tell Library Board the staff and public need more input

Sept. 27, 2011 | In the News: Library board meets ahead of vote on layoffs: Union wants more public input before decision

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