As county administrator for Jackson County in Oregon, I wanted to share a few points of view concerning Nevada County's interest in pursuing a public-private partnership for the operation of its public libraries.
I recognize the deep passions of the library staff, Friends of Library and volunteers, as well as members of the community in general, who want to continue the success of your library system. I hope that my perspective will provide the residents of Nevada County with a better understanding of the public-private partnership and the long-term benefits for library users young and old.
More than two years ago, Jackson County faced a major library budget shortfall. As a result, our county was forced to close the doors of its public libraries for six months after proposed library budget levies were defeated at the polls on two different occasions.
After the county outsourced its library operations to LSSI, the libraries were re-opened and many of the library staff members resumed work ahead of schedule in a record three-week turnaround period.
Prior to making this decision, I heard numerous concerns offered by longtime library staff anxious about going to work for a "for-profit" company, especially one located on the East Coast. They had initial reservations about changing their status as civil servants to private employees, or had philosophical opinions that public libraries should not be privately managed. I heard similar concerns about the change from the general public as well.
LSSI listened and addressed the concerns of our longtime library staff, and the community in general. I was impressed with their operating procedures and with the fact that they immediately involved our library staff in the decision-making process. They took actions based on policy direction set by Jackson County with input from our Library Advisory Committee.
Anne Guevara, a civil servant for 36 years, who now oversees all of Jackson County's 15 branches as an LSSI employee, commented: "My concerns were waylaid after my first interview with the new management team. I realized that the best interests of the library staff and community were at heart. Everybody has been empowered. There's a lot more teamwork.
"The energy is 100 percent better than before the library was closed."
I have personally received many positive comments from members of the public as to the service they receive from LSSI as operators as the Jackson County Library System.
Today, LSSI's management of Jackson County's library operations has brought savings to the county of $3.7 million during this fiscal year (2008-09). The current five-year contract will net more than $20 million in savings to Jackson County over what it would have cost the county to run the library system.
LSSI has worked diligently not only to re-establish services previously offered, but also to reach out to new library users, and to develop strategic partnerships and engage county officials, library supporters and volunteer groups, and citizens of the county in a planning process to determine the library's vision and priorities for the next 5 years.
Our citizens realized the financial difficulties Jackson County faced, and support from the Friends of the Library groups and volunteers now is at an all-time high.
As a result of our decision to enter into a public-private partnership with LSSI, we can now brag about the Jackson County libraries. For example, and including, but not limited to:
• Jackson County residents continue to enthusiastically use the services and programs at all 15 library facilities which are now open 65 percent of the hours they were before the closure.
• We have seen a 200 percent increase in the average monthly attendance at library functions, which is now more than 6,000 attendees/month.
• We are experiencing many new users - 15,790 new library cards have been issued since re-opening.
• This year, the number of items borrowed climbed to 1,411,767 - the second highest circulation since 2000.
From our experience, there are many benefits offered by a public-private partnership and how it can serve the users of a library system very well. It certainly has made a positive difference for Jackson County.
Danny Jordan is administrator for Jackson County, Ore.