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Tim Myers: A local library takeover will not be a good thing

Myers Musings

Posted: August 21, 2010 2:05 p.m.
Updated: August 22, 2010 4:30 a.m.

I hold a great deal of respect for Darren Hernandez, the deputy city manager and head of finance for Santa Clarita, who recently championed the potential takeover by the city of three Los Angeles County Library branches within the city limits, turning them over to a private library-management company and using potential “incremental” library funds to provide better services to the citizens of Santa Clarita.

I respect Hernandez because of his disciplined approach to financial matters and his humble willingness to ask the advice of folks in the community, including myself, before going forward with a plan. In fact, we shared lengthy conversations and data about the meaning of regional voting on the annexation plebiscite, and also the potential library takeover, on which city staff showed a great deal of transparency in its thought process.

However, I must state firmly my considered opinion that the mooted city takeover from the county library system — one of the largest and most robust in the world — would constitute a terrible idea for the actual users of the library.

The city’s logic seems unassailable. Some data (containing allocations, which by nature can be quite imprecise) could indicate that the citizens of the SCV pay $1.6 million in “incremental” taxes more than the amount the county “spends” on the three library branches in question.

City staff proposes after the takeover these incremental funds could provide increased “services” to city residents, primarily increased hours at the Newhall and Canyon Country branches, and I would guess a whole lot more copies of the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” trilogy and the latest Nicholas Sparks novel.

But I humbly assert that Hernandez and other proponents of a city takeover do not really understand how those of us who actually use the library rely on the entire county system. They instead visualize library usage that seems more akin to the 1950s, with parents taking their children to brick and mortar facilities to check out volumes of “The Cat in the Hat.” I really don’t think they understand the actual usage model now, and do not currently use or plan to use the library in any meaningful way.

I consider myself a power user of the county system. My extremely long daily commute requires some form of mitigation, which I fill with books on CD from the county’s large collection.

The county system several years ago built a robust Web catalog where users can search for and reserve for pickup at any branch anything held in the county system.

The system also provides e-mail reminders for renewals, pickups and returns. The whole process generally takes five to seven days from request to pickup. All of these services the county provides at no additional costs to users.

When I raised this issue with Hernandez, he assured me I would receive the same robust service from an interlibrary loan scheme, but further research reveals that Hernandez, while no fool, stands mistaken on how this will work in real life.
Journalistic accounts show the city of Temecula, which took a similar approach several years ago in withdrawing from the Riverside County Library system, does not enjoy a seamless loan system. Library users wait several weeks for loaned materials, sometimes delivered through the U.S. Postal Service.

Also, the interlibrary system charges fees for the incremental cost of the loan, ranging from one dollar to $15, depending on the type of material requested. Will users or the city bear these costs, quickly eating into the estimated benefit of takeover?

I fear the real-life answer would mean no incremental fees, due to the fact that usage of the interlibrary loan system would never match the usage of the county system.

The robustness and innovative nature of the county system indicates the county actually intends for users to easily access the extensive collection of the county library — and in real life, people actually do.

But in the case of the interlibrary loan system, one can already see users will find real-life usage so onerous and difficult that very few people will attempt access.

But on the upside, one can see they will enjoy extended hours to pick up the latest “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” installment.

    Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Myers’ Musings” appears Sundays in The Signal.


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