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Andy Pattantyus: Library Wars, part 3: the cost of doing business

Right Here, Right Now!

Posted: November 4, 2010 9:38 p.m.
Updated: November 5, 2010 4:55 a.m.

On Aug 24, the Santa Clarita City Council wrested control of the local libraries from the county.

How do we make the best of it? 

To develop an operational definition of excellence, part three of this four-part series examines three top-rated libraries.

Within a 5-mile circle on the west side of Cleveland are the three adjacent suburban cities of Rocky River (population 20,735), Fairview Park (pop. 17,572) and Westlake (pop. 31,719), each with its own top-10-rated library. 

Each city sees its library as a jewel, all de facto community centers, to be nurtured and promoted and funded. 

Enabled by reciprocity, a patron of one library likely has a library card to the other two, and uses all three. While these three libraries compete vigorously, all are thriving because they deliver value to their customers.

Let’s have a closer look at the libraries, and how they operate.

The Rocky River Public Library is a regal and classic building of 39,594 square feet, housing a collection of 110,565 books. Annual operating income is $3,592,954, mostly from operating levies on the property owners. 

From 1913 to 1931, R. Guy Cowan and his associates at the Cowan Pottery Studio created a distinctive form of American art pottery. The Cowan Pottery Museum, housed at RRPL, displays approximately 25 percent of 1,200 pieces every day.

Expanded from 32,000 square feet 10 years ago, the Westlake Porter Public Library is a modern 75,000-square-foot Colonial-style structure that houses over 176,000 volumes. The WPPL strategic plan is publicly available.

The 44,000-square-foot Fairview Park Branch of Cuyahoga County Public Library specializes in genealogy and features quiet study rooms, art pieces on all floors, a story/craft room and a large aquarium. The county system there houses an average of 118,000 books per branch.

The story of these three libraries on the Westside of Cuyahoga County is an embarrassment of riches.

They compete and provide great customer service. Examples of catering to the customer: drive-through pick-up windows, drive-through drop boxes, drop boxes at other convenient places in town, large numbers of computers and work areas, public art, segregated children’s areas, comfortable reading chairs and access to many online databases. 

In spite of the heavy usage by its patrons, there is never a line at any of the library checkout counters. By the year 2000, each library already had self-serve bar-code scanners for checkout. As long as your library account was current, and your accumulated fines below the limit, you could check out yourself.

How good is the service? We don’t have to guess. Hennen’s American Public Library Rating index rates customer service on 15 criteria.

In the 2010 listings, RRPL has a HALPR score of 871, and ranks 18th out of 1,700 or 98.9 percentile. 

WPPL has a HALPR score of 943, and ranks No. 1 or 100 percentile. CCPL has a HALPR score of 910, and ranks No. 1 of 75 library systems for populations of more than 500,000 or 100 percentile. 

By comparison, the Los Angeles County Public Library system has a HALPR score of 229, and ranks 68th out of 75 library systems for populations of more than 500,000.

How much library space is needed? The 275,000 people in the Santa Clarita Valley are now served by 45,808 square feet of library space (soon to be 71,000 square feet) in three buildings with 464,374 books.

The 77,000 citizens of Rocky River, Westlake and Fairview Park are served by 159,000 square feet of library space in three buildings that house 400,000 books.

How much do the citizens pay? Los Angeles County residents pay $28.36 per capita versus the citizens of Cuyahoga County, who pay $104.63. Excellence costs money, and Santa Clarita falls far short of the excellence defined by other communities.

The point of this story is not to cause library envy for the citizens of Santa Clarita or to denigrate what we have. Rather, the story puts into perspective the amount of facilities required to provide a certain kind of service level. 

If we want outstanding library service in Santa Clarita, we need to think bigger than we have been.

Andy Pattantyus lives and works in Santa Clarita and is the president of Strategic Modularity Inc. He once served on the Board of Trustees of the Rocky River Public Library in Ohio. Contact him at His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Right Here, Right Now!” runs Fridays and rotates among local Republicans.


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