Small town public library life and library school topics of interest

LIBR 204: SWOT Analysis part 5

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Overall, the Paso Robles City Library is doing a remarkable job for its community, especially during the city’s continuing difficult economic times. The library, although in need of a facelift, is a pleasant place to visit with a downtown location on the main historic square adjacent to the City Park and Paso Robles Inn. The library shares a facility with City Hall offices (they are on the second floor of the building), and the Council Chambers act as a large program space for the library. The library staff is a small but dedicated group, with a large but equally dedicated group of volunteers assisting in all areas of library service. On a limited budget, staff provides quality library programs, and a popular circulating collection of materials in a variety of formats including downloadables. High speed Internet access is available during the library’s open hours. At fifty-seven open hours per week, the library is available for use more than any other library in the County. It is a combination of facility, services, and staffing that makes this library a success.

The Library building itself functions very well for both staff and the public. It is a relatively large space, about 21,000 square feet, with a nice central location, built twenty years ago. The facility’s main wall faces the City Park, and is composed of floor-to-ceiling picture windows, allowing for plenty of natural light. The Children’s area has a patio garden which can be accessed by the pubic to use as a recreational reading area or as a place to have conversations that might be too loud for the interior library environment. The library has two main program spaces; the Council Chambers and a Story Hour Room, and one small meeting room called the “Quiet Room” that is mostly used for tutoring and small group discussions. There are three services desks (circulation, reference, and children’s) and one self-checkout station. Both exterior walk up and drive through book drops are available. Staff enjoy the nice office spaces available to them; and a technical services workroom can be shared by staff and volunteers for various behind the scenes tasks. There is also a fully equipped staff kitchen with a small dining table and chairs for use by both library and city hall staff and volunteers.

The main issue with the facility is that it is showing signs of wear and tear. The carpet in particular has areas where it is buckling and there is even a rather large hole near the adult Internet computers. Because the

library has had little assistance from Public Works in several years, the carpet has not been thoroughly steam cleaned since 2007; only high traffic areas have been vacuumed regularly. The chairs in the facility also need to be replaced. Twenty years of heavy use has taken its toll on the upholstery, and the material is worn in some areas so much that the pattern cannot be distinguished. The trim on the lounge chairs has worn through and in several areas stuffing and other “insides” are visible. Many of the original chairs have been discarded due to their shabby appearance and/or the fact that their hinges have come unglued. The seating in the children’s area was replaced two years ago,

but the replacement furniture has proven to be inadequate as several of the wooden chairs have broken or cracked and are already in need of replacement. The shelving signage is also in need of replacement; the lettering used for the signage resembled Lego blocks that snapped into a frame; the frames and letters are still in good shape, but many of the letters have gone missing and the company no longer manufactures them. Fortunately, the Library Foundation has stated that its fundraising efforts for the next few years will focus on this facelift effort. The purchase of new solid wooden chairs is already underway, and they are starting to look into carpeting using carpet squares which can be easily replaced in the heavy traffic areas as needed. Endcap signage should be removed, even if it is to be replaced with laminated staff-created signs in the short term.

Library services overall are remarkable, particularly considering the library’s budget and staffing challenges. Although little formal collection development has been done for the past few years, librarians have been keeping up with the most requested bestsellers as well as high demand items such as “Battle of the Books” titles. The Cooperative shares a downloadable catalog including eBooks, eAudio, eMagazines, and eVideo selections. The California section is an excellent archive for a library serving 30,000 people, and the library has a system whereby titles donated to the library are added to the database if they meet certain criteria. The library has been focusing on weeding the collection of worn or disused items. The library provides five different story time opportunities for children: Mother Goose on the Loose, Toddler Story time, Pajama Story Time, Grandparents and Books, and the more traditional Preschool Story Time. There is a monthly book group meeting for adults. In addition to these ongoing programs, there are monthly themed programs for children and

quarterly programs for adults. The library provides a robust Summer Reading Program for all ages with entertaining and educational programs available in addition to the traditional reading-for-prizes. Public Internet access is provided via high speed internet connections on library desktop computers or via Wi-Fi on the patron’s own device. Computer equipment is on a city-wide replacement schedule, and is replaced every three years. Items from other libraries are accessed through the Cooperative’s shared ILS system or through WorldCat. Paso Robles City Library is the only public library in the County charging an affordable fee (only $2.00 per item) for ILL; other libraries in the County charge $15.00 per item for this service.

The difficulties in providing excellent library services are twofold, namely budget and staffing, both of which are woefully lacking in numbers. During the economic downturn, the library was asked to cut its materials spending 25%. While this was not a problem for the first couple years, as this amount has remained stagnant and the price of materials and fees has increased dramatically, the library has been unable to provide prior years’ numbers of volumes added or achieve any kind of subject collection updating. If not for the monies raised by the Friends of the Library, there would be virtually no collection purchasing at all. Program cutbacks have been relatively invisible to the public; the number of programs has not decreased greatly because librarians have been creative with their programming dollars. Although staffing costs were not cut in the same way as the materials budget, it is still true that staffing number are greatly reduced due to attrition. The city has an extensive layoff prevention plan which was activated in 2007 and is still in place today. As a result of the layoff prevention plan, several staff retired with incentive packages and others found new jobs or relocated for a variety of reasons. During the layoff prevention, these positions are not replaced, thus reducing the staffing portion of the budget. In the past few years, the library has been able to fill positions when staff leave, but the numbers overall are still down 40% from pre-recession years. Solutions to this state of affairs include covering desk shifts with volunteers when appropriate (our volunteer program is another whole essay in itself) or asking staff working “off desk” to assume “on desk” shifts. This has led to fewer librarians being available for either collection development or programming functions.

This brings us to the topic of current staffing. The Paso Robles City Library operates with only 16 staff

(9 FTE), most of whom are part-time (meaning they are not able to work more than 999 hours per year). Of the 16, only two are librarians, the Library Manager and the Children’s Services Librarian. The library’s Volunteer Coordinator also works in this same job classification, and by necessity has been trained to work at all three service desks. One full-time staff assistant and three part-time library assistants round out the lead staff; the remainder cannot oversee the library without a lead staff present. In addition, the library has approximately 130 volunteers, each offering about fours hours per week as unpaid employees. This staff truly runs like a well-oiled machine, achieving an amazing amount of work in the time available while serving the public cheerfully and well. That said, the obvious challenge in staffing is the numbers. The library clearly needs more librarian-level staffing, ideally replacing at least the Reference Services Librarian and Technical Services Librarian, freeing up time primarily for the Library Manager and to a lesser extent the Children’s Services Librarian to focus on other duties such as programming, collection development, and staff training. Replacing several part-time library assistants would also help the librarians as they would no longer have to cover as many desk shifts.

While the Paso Robles City Library does have several challenges to overcome as the economy recovers, they are fortunate to have positive assets such as a nice facility in which to provide service, a more than adequate level of public service, and particularly, an amazing staff. By continuing to maintain its open hours, the library acts as a community gathering place.

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