A report on a county library system in Oregon run by the same company the city plans to hire to run its library has surfaced. The report is not complimentary.
At the August 23 city council meeting when the decision was made to negotiate a contract with Maryland-based Library Systems & Services (LS&S) to operate the Escondido Public Library, much was made about how happy the people of Temecula are with their library LS&S runs.
Mayor Sam Abed talked about visiting the Temecula library and compared it to Escondido’s library, with Escondido losing by the comparison.
“I was impressed. I was inspired. I want Escondido library to be like this. I spoke to the volunteers and they love it,” said the mayor.
However, there are other jurisdictions where LS&S is running libraries. One is Jackson County, Oregon. So far, it is the only jurisdiction not singing the company’s praises.
The Jackson County Library Services Performance Review and Quality Assessment, which is being distributed far and wide by the opponents of the library outsourcing, the Save Our Escondido Library Coalition, and Escondido Indivisible, tells a different story of a library system that has been run by LS&S for a decade. It determined that the library met 37% of “essential specifications” as set out by the Standards for Oregon Public Libraries.
Laura Hunter of the Coalition commented, “Knowing what we now know about Library Systems and Services, outsourcing our library to them would not only be a mistake, it would be a scandal.”
In July 2016, the Board of the Jackson County Library District issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a consultant to conduct an organizational review and an audit of the workload and performance of the Jackson County Library System. The purpose was to determine if the services delivered by the district and its contract LS&S measured up to the Standards for Oregon Public Libraries (OLA Standards), and other industry standards for library operations. Ruth Metz Associates was given the contract.
The library district was created by a vote of the people in 2015, who also voted to tax themselves to fund it. Before that it was a department of Jackson County, which was forced to close its library system due to a funding crisis, and then reopened it under contract to LS&S, which has operated its 15 branches from 2006 to the current date. It operates them under the county Library Board.
The 59-page report was delivered on November 17, 2016.
The report, which was released in 2016, can be found here:
The report looked at 144 specifications that the OLA considers “essential,” 49 considered “enhanced” and 32 labeled exceptional.
According to the report: “We assessed the Library’s attainment of the OLA Standards and concluded that the Library solidly meets 53 (37%) of the 144 essential specifications. Many of the remaining essential specifications are near to being met and in some cases the Library exceeds the essential specifications.”
It also states: “The operating expenditures per capita for the District are the lowest of the Board’s comparator libraries and well below the state average. This impacts the service levels and service output, keeping them lower than other libraries and in some cases below OLA Standards (e.g. hours of service).”
The report says the issue is complicated and is more than a factor of the Library Board raising taxes to bring its expenditures into line with other libraries.
In one section the report states: “The Board, as legal stewards of the Library, wants to be confident that money is well spent on behalf of the community. However, the Board’s confidence that the money is being well spent is limited by the lack of LS&S transparency.”
In 2015-16, direct expenditures for the Library by LS&S accounted for 65% of the District’s payments to LS&S; 35% is assumed to be LS&S costs and profit. LS&S’s definition of proprietary information limits the Board’s ability to account for the District’s use of funds.”
The report advises that the library system should have a written plan to improve services, but that so far LS&S has not provided one.
It states: “The absence of a written service plan, staffing plan, technology plan, a contemporary collection development and management plan, and the existence of many dated operational policies, is concerning. Why is this when LS&S has been operating the Library for 10 years? The Board is relatively new, but LS&S is not. Not only are these best practices absenting, but it is extremely worrisome that the Board has to get involved in management functions in order to find out what is going on.”
The report notes that, based on these factors, the Library Board does not intend to contract out library services in the long term.
Council member Olga Diaz, who voted against going forward with the LS&S contract, when asked to comment on the report, told The Times-Advocate, “I was recently made aware of this report and I shared it with our current city attorney so that he can consider these deficiencies. Clearly there is significant reason to be concerned that the ‘sales pitch’ may not match the actual service delivery.” She added, “You’ll notice there were no items listed on the city website about any such concerns. An objective and thorough process would have included a balance of perspectives. Instead, only the pro-LS&S information is featured.”
Jeffrey Epp, Escondido city manager commented, “Yes, we are very aware of the work between LSS and the Jackson County Library Board. We are watching how LSS handles this challenge, and are especially pleased that they are actively working with the Jackson County Library Board to address the issues. It’s a great example of LSS being willing to engage with the local officials and solve problems.”
Epp pointed out that “Jackson County has been the ONLY governmental entity that has expressed any concerns with LSS. Every other city, county, or library they have done business with has provided glowing reviews of LSS performance and working relationships. Indeed, we just received a letter from the Osceola Board of County Commissioners this morning, expressing their support of LSS and the positive working relationship this Florida county has had with LSS. Copies of the letters of support from the other jurisdictions are on the City’s website.”
Epp forwarded a copy of a letter from Fred Hawkins, Jr. County Commissioner, Osceola County Florida, who wrote: Library Systems & Services (LS&S) has been operating the Osceola Library System since 2011. As a local government official, I supported the decision to partner with LS&S and recently advocated that our county renew our contract with LS&S.”
Hawkins declared, “Beyond cost savings and improved operations, LS&S has significantly enhanced the vibrancy of our library and more broadly, positively impacted our community.
“LS&S supported the library through major renovations of several branches, resulting in modern facilities that better support the community’s needs and attract visitors to the library. Within those facilities, our staff and volunteers actively and professionally engage with patrons to provide the best experience possible. The library is bustling with programs, services, clubs, events, and Friends of the Library activities every day.”
Hawkins concluded, “Our experience is that the silent majority of residents simply prefer to have their library run well. We are proud of the library and its impact on the community and would recommend consider partnering with LS&S as an extension of your government.”
At Epp’s suggestion, The Times-Advocate contacted Todd Frager—LS&S’s chief financial officer and chief operations officer—with several questions about his company’s reaction to the report.
These were the questions:
Q: Do you consider the report to be accurate? If it isn’t, where is it inaccurate?
Q: What has your reaction to the report been? Are you working to address the issues brought up by it?
Q: What issue that the report brought up do you consider the most important to address, either to dispute or to rectify?
Q: Mr. Epp in his email referenced that you had said LS&S’s working relationship with Jackson County was “challenging.” Challenging in what way?
None of our questions were answered in Frager’s reply. Instead, we received a drawn out “no comment” worded as follows: “LS&S has been partnering with Jackson County Oregon for ten years. We are working together to implement a three year JCLS Strategic Plan. We share and support the Board’s vision to Learn, Connect and Grow. Its Board, LS&S, and its Friends, Foundation, volunteers, and other advocates are committed to making it the best it can be for all of the people of the County.”