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Librarian tries to shush bid for takeover

Politics: County official cites diminished services, ‘hidden costs’ of running 3 libraries

Posted: July 20, 2010 9:41 p.m.
Updated: July 21, 2010 4:30 a.m.
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Santa Clarita’s proposal to take over three libraries within the city limits could cost much more than city officials think and wouldn’t guarantee better libraries for residents, the head of the Los Angeles County Library system said Tuesday.

“The county takes care of all the liability issues, all those hidden costs. When you take it on yourself, it’s yours,” said County Librarian Margaret Donnellan Todd.

“There’s a whole lot of things that go on to make a library function, and it’s not cheap. Even if the city started a library, they would have to spend a lot to get the breadth and depth of service that the county of Los Angeles public library (system) provides.”

Santa Clarita’s libraries also wouldn’t be able to use county library databases or book catalogues that allow people to order books from any library in the county, she said.

The Santa Clarita City Council will consider taking over Valencia, Canyon Country and the new Newhall libraries, which are currently run by the county, during a meeting and public hearing Aug. 24.

Deputy City Manager Darren Hernandez said the city could run the libraries more efficiently by spending less on library administration.

“We want to be able to open our libraries for longer hours, for more days and buy more books,” Hernandez said.

If the city decides to take over the libraries, Santa Clarita would join the Southern California Library Cooperative that allows its members, which include Los Angeles and Orange County libraries, to share books.

But Todd said the co-op is less responsive than the county’s book-sharing program. It could take weeks for people to order books from a different library, but a couple of days within the county, she said.

Todd said all of the money city residents pay from two separate library fees is spent to run the three libraries, and is not spent at other libraries throughout the county.

Only a small amount of the $6 million it costs to run the three libraries goes to pay for administration, she said.

“(The county) is not spending millions and millions of dollars on overhead or administration,” Todd said. “The costs that we charge are pretty realistic for a large library system. We’re not spending special tax money elsewhere. Every dollar (collected in Santa Clarita) has been spent in the city.”

The county spent $778,304 on administration and overage costs in fiscal year 2008-09, which is about 7.8 percent of the library’s total cost, according to the library operating statement for that year.

Hernandez said in an e-mail that the city could run the libraries “much cheaper” than the county can. Staff will determine whether to hire a private firm after the council makes its decision in August, he said.

But Todd said Santa Clarita would have to contract services out to keep costs down.

“You know the city and county aren’t going anywhere,” Todd said. “When a private company is doing it, you have no knowledge of how long they’ll be in business. You would have no idea what they’re financial health is.”

 

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