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Always Advocating Alan – Future of the Santa Clarita Library, Part Two A Report from your City Council Meeting

| Opinion | January 18, 2018

by Alan Ferdman

The first combined Board of Library Trustees and City Council Meeting of 2018, took place on Tuesday, January 9. It was a relatively short meeting, with agenda item 9, calling for the transition of library services, from being contracted out to LSSI, to becoming a City in-house operation.

The written staff report indicated, “During the first four years of operation, SCPL (Santa Clarita Public Library) performance has improved as measured by key library metrics … over the past two-and-one-half fiscal years, (Library) service has not met the City’s high expectations.” Unfortunately, the staff report did not reveal what the key Library metrics, or the high expectations consisted of. It also did not answer the obvious question, if the Municipal Libraries Act authorizes the Board of Trustees to “make and enforce all rules, regulations and bylaws necessary for the administration … of the Libraries under its management”; Why had this issue not been made public and brought before the Board of Library Trustees prior to the perceived need for this action?

Since previously, Library services had been such a contentious issue, I was taken back by the low attendance at this meeting. Yet, by answering questions in a genuine and transparent manner, the Board of Library Trustees had an opportunity to build confidence they are looking out for our community’s best interest.

First came the live staff report. Here again, the report regurgitated the written staff report, and did not reveal the key metrics, high expectations, rationale for not bringing this issue to the Board of Trustees earlier, or provide any form of an implementation plan, except for the go live date of July 1, 2018.

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During the public’s opportunity to speak on this issue I again asked the questions listed above, mentioned the Board of Library Trustees inaction on forming a Citizens Library Commission, or Board, and asked the Council not to rush to judgement, by providing more details, thereby allowing time for the plan to be vetted by the community.

During the following Council Discussion, Councilmember Kellar stated, “This city council has been well engaged over the years having to do with our library system. There is not one of us who has not had numerous occasions to visit our library, talk with our senior library representatives and to make certain we are continuing to function in a responsible manner for our communities.” He then went on to compliment the staff, and offered a motion for the recommended action, without first asking even one question about the missing information. The motion was seconded immediately by Mayor Pro-tem McLean.

Councilmember Smyth, however, was listening. He voiced his philosophy on taking advantage of forming a Library Citizens Advisory Committee or Commission. He spoke in favor of allowing community members, who wanted to give back to the community, an ability to influence the library’s operations.

Councilmember Miranda thought moving library operations in-house was a great plan and would improve Library Services, and save money. He also complimented City Staff for their efforts.

Mayor Weste reminded us about the proposed Saugus Library, and concurred with Councilmember Smyth on community involvement.

Mayor Pro-tem McLean provided her views on why we originally withdrew from the County Library System, and indicated in-house operations were necessary, due to an LSSI management change, after which, some of the city’s requests were not being implemented as quickly as the city would have liked. She concurred with Councilmember Smyth’s desire to include a citizen’s library group of some kind. But, she also stated, “I just get a little bit discouraged when people try to make up stories that are just not true.”

I found her comment out of context, and wondered what made up untrue stories she is talking about? If you spot any untrue stories, please let me know.

The Council then unanimously voted to implement the recommended action. It appears no further details will be forthcoming, and the public will not be given an opportunity to better understand the issue prior to implementation. This is all on the shoulders of the City of Santa Clarita. The Council could have brought Library Services in-house seven years ago. But because, a decision was made to outsource at that time, one result is beyond dispute. It is the anxiety created by terminating the employment of an entire library staff, for the second time in seven years, and re-staffing once again. Some employees will most likely apply for their current positions, while others will move on. This is not a good way to build a loyal work force, or demonstrate true concern for the wellbeing of the totality of city staff.

I find it disheartening staff and council members are not willing to provide the public with accurate and complete information. It is just a matter of time before community members will no longer accept being told everything is wonderful, no matter what the situation is. But, that is what elections are for, and there is one coming up in November.

In the meantime, since the changes in Library services has not been revealed, we will just have to wait. Remember, we still have the ability to use the County Libraries in Stevenson Ranch, Aqua Dulce or Castaic should we need a service or a book the Santa Clarita Library does not provide.

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