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Concerns about Library System Improvement Report Process & Contents

From: domainremoved <Lynne>
Date: Tue, 10 Oct 2017 11:34:41 -0400

Dear Mayor, Council Members and Staff,

I’m writing with public comments on staff report 17-243-CC or “Approve Next
Steps for Library System improvements.” I’m out of town, so cannot attend
the October 10, 2017 meeting. If present, I would ask you to NOT APPROVE
the report for the following reasons:

1. *The process of developing this report completely bypassed the
Library Commission*. We learned about the report *after* it was attached to
the agenda packet. If there had been an urgency, a special meeting could
have been called. In any other town, building consensus would be expected
of staff. If you approve this report, it sends a message that it’s okay for
staff to bypass citizen advisory groups and to develop their plans in
isolation. Instead, please establish process expectations by informing
staff that they need to work to obtain consensus before sending major plans
on to Council for approval. City staff are here for the residents and they
need to work collaboratively with us.

2. *The report is inadequate in its current form*. The background
section paints an inaccurate picture of the approval process. It omits any
mention of the meeting where Council re-thought their approval and the many
public concerns raised about accepting the donation. The Analysis section
is also too general and the milestones need more specifics as well as
estimated dates. The suggested new Belle Haven Neighborhood Advisory
Committee largely bypasses the current Commission which is fully in support
of Belle Haven and trying to hold library management accountable for
improving library services in the area. The document should detail the role
of the current commission in the "library system improvement" process.
While a steering committee will be needed, more stakeholders from the Belle
Haven community should be included. (The current commission may also be out
of compliance with Municipal Code governing libraries. I raise those
concerns later.)

3. *The document lacks adequate budget details*. The document does
not breakdown the additional $140,000 that staff wants for the Branch and
what the requested $1M will be spent on. A current library budget that
breaks out the Branch’s overall share should also be attached for
transparency. On a related note, I’m attaching my rough estimate of the
Branch’s share of the overall library budget. The public and members of the
Commission requested this information, but did not receive it, so I
prepared an estimate based on then publically available information. While
my budget estimate needs to be updated to reflect the proposed $140,000
requested for the branch, the current estimate shows that per capita
library spending in the Belle Haven area is *significantly* lower than the
rest of Menlo Park. The Belle Haven residents pay taxes and they should
receive an equitable share of library services.

4. *The report inadequately justifies why a new library management
position is needed to oversee the project. *A significant portion of the
library budget goes for personnel costs. The job descriptions for current
employees should be attached as well as a job description for the new role.
The report should include current staffing and planned staffing, such as
the replacement position for the Project Read coordinator. The library
should also explain why current employees cannot manage the project. The
library should also factor in volunteer help to manage the project, such as
through the Library Commission. Many of us would welcome a more involved
role. More justification of personnel costs should be included.

5. *There was significant public opposition to this project, yet
nowhere in the document are the public’s key concerns listed and how the
library plans to address them.* Omitting the public’s concerns is one of
the most troubling aspects of this document. In this way, the document
presents a biased document rather than an accurate record. If Council
approves this document as written, you send the message that staff doesn’t
need to present the full facts and can instead present information that
only supports their agenda. Please stand up for transparency and an
honoring of the residents who take the time to attend and speak at Council
meetings and to write Council.

I also want to raise general concerns about the role of the Library
Commission and the need for more management and operational oversight into
the library. Unfortunately, the Commission, in its current role, is not
able to give adequate oversight into library management and operations.
Meaningful information is not shared with us and requests for information
are often ignored. When we raise concerns or make suggestions that staff
might not like, we are reminded that we are “advisory only.” This results
in wasted time and opportunity. I have been an active commissioner, working
in a hands-on way, and I have concluded that my time spent trying to help
the library improve its services, based on best practices seen elsewhere,
is mostly wasted. In short, I consider the Commission’s current advisory
role to not be meaningful.

Our neighboring cities don’t seem to have the library-related problems that
I see in Menlo Park. For example, Redwood City and East Palo Alto have
worked to serve all members of their community with library services. The
Redwood City library consistently wins major library rewards as does the
overall San Mateo County Library Joint Powers Association. If our neighbors
can do this, Menlo Park can too.Yet, the Commission continues to hear
complaints from the public about the library disparity in Belle Haven and
the too slow replacement for the Project Read coordinator.

As part of providing better library services for all of our residents, I
recommend a strengthened the library commission with a meaningful role.
First, our town may be out of compliance with the Municipal Code Governing
The code clearly reflects the need for library governance for this
important town institution. The word “may” has been interpreted as “shall”
in many cases, such as in Berkeley (where the Board has hiring and firing
power), to towns such as Newport Beach
and Woodland
(where the board has a middle level of authority). In our town, the Library
Commission has no real governing power. So I suggest that Council ask the
City Attorney to determine if Menlo Park is out of compliance with the
code. If deemed out of compliance, the Commission could work on updated job
descriptions for the Commission and also Library Management to reflect
needed changes. Should Council need a general overview into California
Library structure, the California Public Libraries Report
<https://www.library.ca.gov/lds/docs/CAPubLibOrg_2013.pdf> provides needed

Longer term, I have become convinced that Menlo Park would benefit from
joining a regional library solution in the form of the San Mateo County
Library Joint Powers Authority <https://smcl.org/jpa-governing-board/>. By
joining the JPA, Menlo Park would share in county-wide library programming
and outreach services such as the bookmobile. I’ve visited many JPA
libraries and I’ve been extremely impressed with their exemplary service to
the public and innovative programming. The San Mateo County JPA libraries
are consistently named a 4-star library by the *Library Journal *and they
currently rank 2nd in California and 18th nationwide. Clearly, there are
some best practices here for our consideration. Through economies of scale,
and the sharing of ideas, the San Mateo County JPA libraries deliver an
excellent library experience to users.


Lynne Bramlett, Library Commissioner

Received on Tue Oct 10 2017 - 08:39:57 PDT

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