Monday, June 13, 2011

Countering ideology with information

In several recent posts (April 7, April 12, May 5, May 5 and June 2) I have written about the funding crisis faced by public libraries in Jacksonville, in the state of Florida, and across the country.

For my colleagues, and even more so for those citizens who don't have the inside story, the fragmentary, headline-oriented reportage of the story tends to stir up angers and fears without giving a complete picture. We are left with little sense that we can respond constructively, either to the real fiscal challenges, or to the reigning ideological antipathy toward funding public services which stands in the way of real solutions.

It is helpful to recognize, as Kim Stanley Robinson once paraphrased Louis Althusser, that

Ideology is an imaginary relationship to a real situation.

Jacksonville Public Library, Main Library (Nov 2005)Last year, the Administration and Board of Trustees of Jacksonville Public Library (JPL) decided to counter ideology with real information. They hired Godfrey’s Associates, Inc., to do an extensive Capacity Plan investigation, analysis and report.

The first site visits were in July of 2010. In November, the consultants released their analysis of JPL's Information Technology Capacity. In February, they released an initial presentation of their findings. The final report, Past, Present, Future: A Library for the Future of Jacksonville, was released in May.

In their Introduction, the consulting team keyed in on this sentence from our RFP:

JPL continues to provide current level services and maintain hours at all twenty-one locations with fewer staff than five years ago, and in the face of reductions to overall funding including facilities and IT.
To this they added their own commentary on the role of public libraries:

Public library services have traditionally been provided without fees or user charges, because of the accepted notion that such services benefit the community more than they benefit the individual user. In other words, public library services are viewed as a public good, meaning the services are not always but “usually provided by government for consumption by the general public.” Public goods have two defining aspects:

  • Public goods possess a “non-rival consumption” aspect, i.e., the availability of the good to all is not reduced by any one person’s consumption of the good

  • Public goods have a “non-excludability” aspect in that there is no way to effectively restrict the benefits of public goods to those who directly pay for them.
The Report lists the following as Five Major Issues Facing Jacksonville Public Library:

  • Information Technology: JPL does not have it's own dedicated IT staff. All IT needs are managed externally by the City. "Without a sound [internal] IT structure that is reliable, cost-effective, and kept current, there is little reason to believe that the JPL will be able to deliver future services in an expanding, increasingly diverse, and information hungry community."

  • Staffing: All but 12 library positions are civil service rather than appointed, which means that JPL can only recruit for those 12 positions. "This hamstrings the Library from being in a position to fill middle and upper management positions with the most qualified applicants."

  • Earned Income: "Aside from the Main Library Conference Center, there is no incentive for the JPL to become enterprising, because all monies received go directly to the City. The JPL should have more than one enterprise account, and should retain all of the income it earns via fines on overdue books, and other possible sources."

  • Capital Budget: "The JPL has zero dollars for capital expenditures. All capital budgets are the responsibility of another City department. This situation leads to unnecessary delays in making needed changes."

  • Building Mainenance: Centralized maintenance is not working for the JPL, in our opinion. Buildings are not adequately maintained. The Main Library is showing more than five years worth of wear and tear. The Library should have it own maintenance staff and budget."
The Report concludes with extensive documentation in support of Recommendations, Implementation and Sustainable Funding, .

We are now waiting for the Library Board to decide which portions of the recommendations it will pass along to the City's newly elected Mayor and City Council.

There are numerous controversial recommendations—problematic either for various staff or for the public or both.

Nonetheless, there is empowerment in having a thorough, competently done analysis of JPL's present resources, of the public's desires, and of "best practice" comparisons with other comparable multi-branch library systems.

I Love JPLThe Library can now go to the public with facts and tell them:

Here is what you say you want and need. Think about it seriously, because here is want you must tell your City government that you are willing to pay for.
It comes down to that.

We shall see....


Anonymous said...

Absolutely excellent point. Living in close proximity to La La Land, where our state's legislature and governor attempt to government from the heart (and there's ample doubt that they even have one, individually or collectively)instead of the head, I can only shake my head and hope their foolishness will become so egregious that another election may send them home. It's not Tallahassee that's the problem; it's the bozos you folks sent to Tallahssee.....

Elaine McCreary

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

Too many people have forgotten what their grandmothers told them: "You get what you pay for and you pay for what you get."

Mike Shell said...

Thanks, Elaine and Karen.