2012 will most certainly be a year of change for the James Prendergast Library. Longtime director Catherine Way retired in late 2011 and the new director, Linda Mielke, started the next day. As the treasurer for the Prendergast Library board of trustees, and a member of the director search committee, I thought I would take some time to share some thoughts on the changes taking place at Prendergast Library. The entire board has read this document and I have incorporated their suggestions.
The evolution of public libraries has created institutions that are more than just depositories of books. Your library provides the following services:
Adult literacy tutoring, children's literacy activities, public Internet access including WiFi, computer skills training, public meeting rooms, art gallery space for local artists, organized community reading events (e.g. "The Big Read"), E-book reader assistance, E-book borrowing, ESL classes, inter-library loans, assistance of trained reference librarians (especially helpful to students writing research papers), the ability to borrow from Prendergast Library's collection of books and access to a collection of audio tapes,CDs, VHS tapes, and DVDs
It should be clear that Prendergast Library is a vibrant, active part of Jamestown. The task for your library and the board of trustees is to keep Prendergast Library relevant here in the Internet Age.
One of the hardest jobs for the trustees is maintaining library services, along with buying new books and other materials, in the face of declining revenues. The state has cut funding to libraries by almost 22 percent over the past two years. That means the board of trustees has to make some very difficult decisions even though the city of Jamestown has not cut its funding to Prendergast Library.
When you consider that 1) library revenues are down; 2) Prendergast Library has a new director; and 3) the ever-increasing evolution of technology, we all have to accept that certain ways Prendergast Library does business must change.
CHANGES AT THE LIBRARY
Change is coming to Prendergast Library whether we want it or not. While our overall circulation is down, e-book circulation has exploded. From Kindles, to Nooks, to iPads, the way we read books is rapidly changing. This advancement in technology is having a cascade effect on just about all parts of Prendergast Library .
I mentioned earlier that the overall library circulation is down. Also down are the number of people who come into the library on a daily basis, contrary to national trends. This trend started when Prendergast Library reopened after the 2009-10 renovations. The board of trustees does not yet know why our circulation is down.
There are bright spots where circulation is up: youth borrowing is up as well as e-book circulation.
(For those who did not know, library patrons are allowed to "borrow" e-books through the Prendergast Library. Our e-book collection is small, but is growing all the time.)
CIRCULATION MUST INCREASE
The board of trustees has tasked Ms. Mielke to increase our circulation. Just how good is a library collection that people do not utilize? To that end, the board of trustees has authorized Ms. Mielke to spend more on books in 2012 (compared to previous years). By "books," I refer to both print and e-books.
In order to spend more on books, the board of trustees authorized a decrease in spending on periodicals and databases. In certain instances, the state now provides free access to online databases that Prendergast Library was previously paying for access and in some cases duplicating. Certain periodicals (magazines) that have little circulation or use by library patrons will not be renewed.
One of the best ways to make the Prendergast Library collection available is to keep the doors open. To that end, the board of trustees directed Ms. Mielke to review the feasibility of reinstituting Sunday opening hours. Ms. Mielke came back with a plan to 1) extend weekday hours and 2) open Prendergast Library on Sundays.
This plan is "expense neutral." The extended and Sunday hours at you library will not cost any additional funds. This includes the level of funding Prendergast Library will receive from the city of Jamestown in 2012. The taxpayers of Jamestown will see no increase in taxes even though Prendergast Library will be open for more hours in 2012.
Another area of change involves Prendergast Library computer lab. Most Prendergast Library patrons know about the public computer area on the first floor of the library. Your Prendergast Library also has a second computer lab which is used for classes. You can take classes on basic computer literacy, how to use word processing applications, and even advanced classes on topics such as MS Excel.
At Linda Mielke's suggestion, the board of trustees approved moving the computer lab from the second floor to the first floor. This move makes the lab easier to find for students. More importantly, when classes are not scheduled, the lab will be used as overflow for the always-crowded public computer area.
To make room for the computer lab on the first floor, the VHS tapes were moved to another part of the library. You can still borrow VHS tapes and the library staff can show you where they are located. DVDs remain in the same high-traffic area as before.
The board of trustees and Ms. Mielke are committed to making Prendergast Library more accessible than ever while remaining relevant in the 21st century.
Change at Prendergast Library may be inevitable, but it still creates concerns with all the stakeholders.
THE PRENDERGAST LIBRARY COLLECTION
One of the issues facing your library is how to cultivate the library's collection. This concern comes with the background of declining circulation.
Catherine Way and her predecessor, Murray Bob, both did an outstanding job at growing the library's collection. In no way should Linda Mielke's philosophy be viewed as a repudiation of past directors. Ms. Mielke, with board of trustees support, is trying to determine the best way to grow the library's collection for the needs of patrons in 2012.
There are two basic schools of thought in library collection development: "Quality over quantity" and "Give the people what they want." I have no MLS degree and will not get into a lengthy essay on library collection development. Something, however, must change in order to address our declining circulation.
Part of the issue, in my opinion, is accepting the concept that modern literature is just as valid and potentially timeless as the established classics.
Take author Michael Chabon for example. Chabon has written a number of fine novels such as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Other authors, such as Mur Lafferty, are just starting to reach a wider audience. These authors have every right to be in Prendergast Library 's collection as well as works such as Pascal's Provincial Letters and the works by and about Thomas Cranmer.
The board of trustees understands that Prendergast Library is special. Nobody wants an inferior collection. As I said earlier: Just how good is a library collection that people do not utilize? We want a quality collection that the public wants to access.
NON-FICTION AND REFERENCE COLLECTIONS
Your library has not implemented any plan to cull, or "weed out" the (non-circulating) nonfiction collection. Since Jan. 1, 2012, only 18 books have been removed from the 300-399 section of nonfiction books. Prendergast Library owns 16,504 items in the 300-399 section of nonfiction books. That is a discard rate of 0.1 percent.
Ms. Mielke has stated that she wants to increase spending on the nonfiction collection once we have the funds to do so.
Regarding the reference collection, which does not circulate, the reference staff does regularly remove outdated materials and add current materials. As I understand the situation, the size of the reference collection has not drastically changed since late 2011.
One of the most difficult issues facing your Prendergast Library is the perception that a climate of fear and intimidation now permeates the staff of the Prendergast Library (and System).
Everyone on the board of trustees has received anonymous, as well as signed, letters and emails. We are working diligently to assess the situation and carefully sort the legitimate causes for concern from the rumors that are circulating. Ms. Mielke has a different management style than that of her predecessor and we recognize that leadership transitions are difficult for all parties.
Staff members who genuinely feel intimidated by Ms. Mielke can approach their supervisors, or individual board of trustees members. Such contact will be treated with respect and confidentiality.
All staff members are covered under the state "whistle blower" law and the Prendergast Library whistle blower policy is posted on our website. I encourage every Prendergast Library and System employee to read the whistle blower policy. The board of trustees takes this issue very seriously.
I should also acknowledge that some Prendergast Library employees have approached individual board members. Some of the comments have been of concern. Some of the comments have been supportive of Ms. Mielke.
The board of trustees supports Linda Mielke and will give her a chance to do her job. A change in leadership is not always easy and can best be accomplished in an atmosphere of mutual trust and commitment to the task of delivering improved and expanded services to our community. Linda Mielke has been on the job for less than six months. We should all give her a chance.
Your Prendergast Library (and System) undertook an extensive national search for a new director. Linda Mielke is the new director and deserves every opportunity to succeed in the job.
More importantly, the Prendergast Library has to address the very real problem of declining circulation. How to turnaround our circulation is subject to debate. One thing is clear: the Prendergast Library is undergoing change.
Change at your public library is inevitable, but we can all work together to keep James Prendergast Library a jewel of Jamestown.