A bit of Georgia Libraries

There are a couple of library director positions opening soon for which I plan to apply. Both would be single county libraries.

Since most of my readers (all half dozen of you – grin) are not in Georgia, allow me to educate you while at the same time gaining a bit of clarity in my own mind.

Georgia is different from most states, and as a consequence probably has the potentially best statewide system of any state. I can point to several magnificent state systems out there, but Georgia has some real advantages. A bit of background, here.

Thomas B. Murphy was speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives from 1973-2003. That makes him the longest serving speaker of any state legislature, ever. As you can imagine, this means he was real adept at dancing with politics. Anyway, one of his pets was library service. He wanted every county to have good
libraries despite themselves, and he set out to do so. He did this with quite the mix of carrot, stick, and tangled net. An example of the carrot…

He recognized that there’s this tendency of small towns to make the librarian position a “mayor’s sister” position. Now for a variety of reasons, librarians in larger sites have to have masters degrees from an ALA (American Library Association) accredited school. Which means that a library without such
a professional is at a bit of a handicap – or at least so you can assume. (I can make a case both ways, but that’s an unnecessary digression.) Anyway, what the speaker got through is that the state agrees to pay for at least one professional librarian per county – everything: wages and benefits. The state also agrees to pay for a chunk of library expenses, based on population. If the county’s large enough, it can get more professionals’ wages and benefits as well.

The stick, then, shows up here. If a county – or a multi-county region – violates rules and regulations, nobody goes to jail. Instead, the state quits providing money. Now there’s a bit of a weakness in there. The person who is supposed to report is the director, who gets his or her salary from, yep, the state. That’s the one guaranteed librarian position. So as a director, I must have the … respect for duty to say to the state, “Hey, you have to quit paying me because of what these folk did.” sigh. The good news is that there are wiggles and recoveries and such. And even better, it’s usually the county that works to fix, because, well, let’s give an example.

Say the county decides it didn’t get enough money this year and needs to cut a bit of its budget. In a LOT of states, a high priority for the cut is the local library – frequently one of the first cut and the last restored. In Georgia, not so much. If it’s Maintenance and Operation funds (which is most of what a library gets), if the local funding body cuts, it violates the rules. An exception (not the only, but the easiest) is if the county is cutting across the board. Libraries can’t be first, but they’re not immune. Anyway… For most single-county libraries in this state, the state funding is between 40 and 90% of total funds. (yes, that much). So if the county decides to cut the library by 10% (not atypical) of as low as 40%, it suddenly has a library operating on 54% (10% of 60, and the state’s 40) of the original budget. Which means an immediate reduction in hours. Oh, and the director has to wave bye-bye (or work for nothing, or…). It’s a not-fun game, and pretty much every director in the state gets close to if not goes through it a couple of times per decade.

That’s the rough side. The good side is it works, and, well… Some examples. Every library in the state, REGARDLESS of size or per capita income or anything else, has had a T1 connection to the internet for about a decade, now — and it’s probably about to increase. Every library in the state has had the option of using a good library management system — that’s the catalog and the circulation system and a few other things — for pretty much zero cost. Every library system (note the change) in the state has had at least one professional librarian – one who has learned the theory as well as practice of librarianship — working for them.

And we attract good librarians. The state of Georgia pays librarians as though they’re teachers. That’s 12 month masters level professionals. Now, Georgia is not the best state for paying teachers – it’s better than most of the southeast, but not GREAT. (Other than the fact that since it’s state paid and can have local supplement, the poor counties don’t suffer.) But librarians… while there are many, many localities (large metro areas) where librarians can earn more, as a state Georgia pays the best. And that’s before you factor cost of living expenses.

Wow, that’s a lot of background, and I just scratched the surface. Anyway…

It is my opinion that if I’m going to be paid better, I need to earn my pay. Go figure. Of course, I also believe I’m worth it anyway, but… I’m getting ready to apply for a couple of directorships. One, I really, really want. The other… if I really want one, why am I applying for the other? Am I getting more money?

No. The gain – unless the local decides to supplement – is nominal. A whopping $100 per month bonus. The reasons are, well, they boil down to a simple facts.

I have some ideas about libraries – especially several of the local ones – and want to put them into play. I think the local libraries can be better than they are. They’re good, but they can be better.

I can’t do all of these things. And in fact, I’ll probably not be able to do any of them for a few months. Time, money, and system priorities will delay. That and the need to really pay attention to what the county needs and wants before fixing what ain’t broken.

Both of these counties are splitting off their old multi-county regions. There are a few things they HAVE to do, none of which are on my list of improvements per se. As a quick example…

They have to pass a new constitution and bylaws. Easily 80% of this – as much as 90% – is boilerplate. But there are a few details that MATTER. As an example, the rules of board membership are set here. (Number of board members, length of terms of office, number of terms allowed subject to state caps, can the county have a dual hat or ex officio representation, etc., etc.)

Both of these counties need to get a second service in play ASAP. Back to those rules of the state, one of them is that the library system can’t have a single library and force all the rural or second-townships to suck it up. Second service can be another branch. It can be a bookmobile. It can be a delivery service – direct (our vehicle) or mail/package delivery or, well… But a second service must be provided or the state quits funding. With a new system there’s a window of time during which “getting one” is sufficient. It’s small, though, and at some time “getting one” must be replaced by an existing secondary service.

Not quite as critical is a new set of policies. Well, policies and procedures, but the important part is the policies. Policies are the rules and regs of the library, while procedures are the day to day “how to do the job” rules. Now I say it’s not as critical because while they must be in place, there’s a temporary that can be applied. The counties can get by with a stop-gap of using the multi-county region’s policy manual (substituting county for region) pending development and approval of a more tailored policy. I know – not think, but know – that there are some policies that irk each of the counties. It was a compromise. So there will be changes – the question’s merely what will change and how much. But for short-term, this will work.

Another thing high on the list is a changeover of LMS. These counties are part of a system that had its own LMS. As single counties – and not wealthy counties at that – they’ll be changing to the state provided system. That’s a major project. In my opinion there are some accompanying mandatory steps that need performed in conjunction. One is a full inventory. The other is a full review of the patron database.

The full inventory is the bane of most library’s existence. The reason’s quite simple – staff time. You can’t say, “50,000 books”. It’s not one item and xxx number of them. Instead, every item – book, dvd, microfilm, etc. – is a separate line item. Every item has to be brought to a scanner, run through, and put back on the shelf. A nominal rate of inventory is 200 items per hour. (pull item from shelf, open to barcode, scan, replace. At intervals, download scan to report.) There are ways to speed this (a lot), but it requires other work. RFID, or placing all barcodes on the cover so you don’t have to open the item, are two such examples. At 100,000 items in a library, that’s 500 manhours. Using the cover-placement and getting to almost 500 items per hour that’s 200 manhours. 5 people for one full week doing nothing but inventory. And the reality is that you don’t get to do nothing but inventory. You have to do it while assisting patrons and shelving and, well, all the other things that go on in a library. Since most library staff is cut to the bone, you can see where this is a problem. By the time you finish that, the additional inventory of computers and desks and shelves and all that sort of thing is nothing.

The inventory is a must, though.

And then there’s the patron database. Regions tend to crossload patrons. That is, patron X who lives in county one may get the card in the library of county two for any of several reasons. We’re back to policy here – will we keep those members currently in the system but out of county? Or are we going to send them a notice that they have to change library? Or are we just going to do it automatically?

Plus there’ll be the need to get a feel for what both the library board and the county management think they want for and from the library — and figuring out how to do that if at all possible without triggering the state’s “woops, no money for you” clauses.

Yep, for both libraries I’ll be too busy doing the “gotta do” things before I start on the “getting better” things. If, after I’ve really looked, they’re really better.

It’ll be fun.


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