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[February 10, 2014]
Library System's Structure Unsound ; Commissioner Argues It's Time For Fundamental Change [Intelligencer Journal (Lancaster, PA)]
(Intelligencer Journal (Lancaster, PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The restoration of business databases and the Library System of Lancaster County have been topics of discussion lately. Recently, the System eliminated funding for the databases, and library advocates and users of that information have called for them to be restored.
In the midst of this public discussion, the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry indicated that it might be interested in taking over management of the databases to prevent the loss of this valuable resource.
When the discussion came before the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners, my concern focused on how to maintain the databases as a sustainable resource. Since the county already provides approximately $2 million to the System and local libraries combined, it is highly unlikely that the board will reopen the county's 2014 budget to fund the databases.
If this prediction is correct, then the pragmatic approach is to support the Chamber's effort to try to develop a business model for this service. I have had numerous conversations with the Chamber on this matter and I believe that they are open to the idea of providing free public access, in perhaps a limited form, within a sustainable financial model. Whether free public access, to the satisfaction of all parties, will be part of any final solution remains to be seen, but if the Chamber is open to exploring that option, I am willing to support their efforts.
Also discussed at the same commissioners meeting was the structure of the System itself. As you may know, the System was created by well-meaning and civic-minded individuals to bolster library services in Lancaster County, and nothing stated here should be misconstrued to disparage those involved in the System and its evolution over time. But, in truth, the System has struggled throughout much of its existence.
A few years ago, the county commissioners appointed a task force, and even paid for a consultant, to study the System, with the goal of improving the System because for years it had been plagued by controversy over a variety of issues from a variety of sources. All involved did an excellent job under challenging circumstances, but that effort, in my opinion, has had mixed results at best.
All this has led me to the conclusion that, no matter the personnel or the board structure, the System is flawed. I liken it to the movie "Groundhog Day," in which the same or similar things keep happening over and over again until the needed lessons are learned. In truth, what we have are good people - staff, board members and volunteers - all hamstrung by a structure that is defective. If you think about it, the System is simply an overlay of bureaucracy, and rarely, if ever, is that the solution to anything.
As a starting point, I have suggested that the System consider a comprehensive shared information technology services agreement with the county, and that the county then directly fund local libraries by using existing county resources, empowering the local libraries to contract with the System for the services they need. This would make the System more responsive to local libraries. If those efforts remain untried or ultimately do not succeed, I believe that the System cannot and should not continue in its current form.
As was stated during the commissioners meeting, and I am paraphrasing, if we put our library patrons first the solution to our problems will become clear. I couldn't agree more and, in my opinion, the structure of the System is what is preventing that clarity.
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