Category name:Testimony

Performance Oversight Hearing on Fiscal Year 2009-2010 Budgets, Library Renaissance Project

Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation
Councilmember Harry Thomas, Chairperson

District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL)
Performance Oversight Hearing on Fiscal Year 2009-2010 Budgets

Thursday February 25, 2010

Testimony of Robin Diener
Director, Library Renaissance Project

Everyone is for libraries.

I commend this city’s leaders for their recognition in recent years that the need for libraries is not “discretionary,” unlike neighboring Fairfax County where libraries have sustained a budget cut of 33% over two years. (See Washington Post article attached.)

Libraries are immensely important as a partner in the city’s central initiative of educational reform. They are also unique “safe spaces” for young people and elders, as well as a way across the digital divide.

And more. But they are no good to us, if they’re closed.

This is not a new story. In the District, it is only recently that we have come close to an adequate library day. That is now eroding. In 2006, at the library listening sessions, the number one request of District residents was that libraries be open as many hours as possible. Kathy Patterson, then-chair of this committee, somehow found the money to fund DCPL to be open on Sundays. New Chief Librarian Cooper, was the recipient of this gift and was able to implement expanded hours shortly after she arrived in August 2006. According to DCPL, Sunday has proven to be the busiest day per hours open.

After only a year and a half, DCPL had to close two mornings a week, due to money that proved not to be forthcoming in spite of having been explicitly promised by Mayor Adrian Fenty. And since the beginning of the 2010 FY, DCPL is closed on Sundays at all branch libraries.

Libraries aren’t any good to us if they’re not open. Keeping the buildings open should be DCPL’s highest priority.

We understand from DCPL that what is needed to open new libraries and restore lost hours is more funding for personnel. If, in these difficult economic times, it is necessary to sustain cuts elsewhere, that would be unfortunate, but we urge you to support DCPL’s request for personnel over all else.

Unfortunately, we can’t give you any guidance on where cuts may need to be taken, because the budget won’t be published until March, but also because when it is published we are unlikely to be able to glean many specifics, if past DCPL performance is any guide. The library, which is synonymous with access and information, does not act in an open and transparent way. The Director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute has said that the Library’s budget is the most opaque and least informative of any DC agency.

There is a lot being accomplished by DCPL with the benefit of lots of taxpayer dollars. And I don’t mean to disparage that accomplishment by reminding people that DCPL was starting from last place among libraries in the US. While much has improved, we question DCPL’s performance in numerous matters of public concern:

  • DCPL was not active in opposing the recent cutbacks that resulted in a series of reductions in hours. DCPL then refused to look at creative use of volunteers to help keep libraries open more hours.
  • DCPL misrepresented the public engagement process for planning new buildings. At the Library Roundtable on February 10, 2010, Chief Cooper admitted that it was a mistake to have led people to believe that public approval was needed for new library designs. DCPL’s self proclaimed “model process of engagement,” including the Hopes & Dreams meetings, was simply a bill of goods.
  • DCPL is paying two to three times what it costs to build branch libraries in comparable cities. The size of the new buildings has never been justified.
  • DCPL ignored the public outcry over the closure of the RLChristian kiosk.
  • DCPL is restricting book storage space for sales by Friends of the Library groups. Proceeds go to purchase new books. The restrictions show DCPL to be lacking in appreciation for the historical role of the Friends of the Library and shortsighted in an era when collections budgets are likely to be cut..
  • The Summer Reading Program, arguably the most important program of DCPL’s, consists of programs that seem to have nothing to do with reading and to be trying to encourage and reward reading with cheap baubles.
  • DCPL has decreed that in the interest of decluttering libraries, racks for the display of free informational brochures, such as are seen in every library in the world, are to be removed in DC. (See Northwest Current article attached.)
  • Adult Literacy – A vision to address this massive deficit is lacking. An integrated program of offerings for adult learners should be in every branch, every day, as recommended by the Mayor’s Task Force on Adult Literacy Report of 2008.
  • The District is in violation of the Library Enhancement And Development Act (LEAD), passed unanimously in 2006 by this Council. The LEAD Act mandated a public task force to develop a strategic plan for the Library. Currently $170 million dollars in capital funds is being spent without a publicly vetted plan.
  • At this very moment, DCPL is using our precious, limited dollars to meet with consultants to plan for further transformation of District libraries — not with residents and library users, not in a public task force — but behind closed doors with private consultants who are accountable to no one. DCPL and its Trustees are making the same mistake they have made throughout the library transformation process.
  • The Board of Library Trustees has been allowed to do whatever it pleases without oversight. The Trustees rarely take a vote in public. The Trustees don’t want to include the public. Chief Cooper clearly has the Trustees full support to do everything in its publicly-funded power to stay two steps ahead of the public. Plans are already set in motion and approved by various requisite boards before the public ever learns of them. DCPL then berates members of the public for causing delay by asking questions “too late” into the process.

As you can see, Chairman Thomas, we have some very serious reservations about DCPL’s performance in areas of judgment, leadership, and responsiveness to the public. My organization has been offering suggestions since before the transformation process began and we offer them again for the record. (See page 4.)

We agree with other testimony that you have heard today that many basic functions have improved dramatically. We ask you to budget to keep the libraries open — first and foremost — that is the public’s highest priority, but we also urge you to exercise the oversight needed to make this public institution more open, responsive, and honest.

Recommendations

  • Create a seat (with vote) on the Board of Trustees for the President of the Federation of Friends of DCPL. There must be someone on the Trustees Board to represent the public interest.
  • Convene a public task force on the future of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial central library. The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development has someone assigned to explore development opportunities for the MLK library, yet there is no public consensus about what should be done.
  • Convene the LEAD Act Task Force to create a strategic plan for DCPL. Create a meaningful process of engagement with communities to assist with planning for library transformation in their neighborhoods.

FY2009 Performance of the District of Columbia Public Library, Woodridge Friends

Testimony on the FY2009 Performance of the District of Columbia Public Library, February 25th 2010 from:
Joseph Harris, Ward 5 Resident, Treasurer of the Friends of the Woodridge Library, Washington, DC.

Good morning Chairman Thomas and members of the Committee. My name is Joseph Harris, I live in Ward 5 and I represent the Friends of the Woodridge Library, (FWL).

The FWL is an all volunteer non profit organization established to support the Woodridge Branch of the District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL) and is a member of the Federation of Friends of the DC Public Library.

Today I want to speak about the value of libraries in general and specifically about how the areas of Personnel, Technology, Service Hours and Resources are important to the value of the Woodridge Branch of the DCPL.
 
Last Summer the local affiliate of NBC news reported that across the country libraries are facing economic difficulties yet still are offering free services.

There is an increased demand for library services from patrons who are:

  • looking for help in finding jobs
  • borrowing movies
  • utilizing public internet access and wireless services

At some libraries the demand for computers can cause waiting for up to an hour.

Some public libraries offer free job counseling seminars and during these difficult economic times libraries are often seen as a growing source of free entertainment. While many public libraries are facing cuts in funding by local governments, record attendance at children’s programs is being seen and in many locations the demand for DVDs and CDs has soared.

Unfortunately there has also been a rise in short tempered angry patrons that at times challenges the library’s code of conduct. In some locations library employees are receiving training in how to defuse explosive situations.

As the recession challenges public libraries to slash budgets, our neighborhood libraries stand to suffer consequences including:

  • More layoffs
  • Information Technology (IT) systems not being kept current
  • Reduced hours, cuts in days of service
  • Buying far fewer books and other materials

From a local point of view these four areas work together to reduce the value of neighborhood libraries like the Woodridge Branch.

  • Cuts in library personnel equate to reduced customer service. Fewer library personnel attending to more library patrons can cause an increase in the number of overworked library employees, an increase in the number of frustrated patrons and an increase in the number of times the local branch is short-handed.
  • Keeping IT systems up to date is important at Woodridge partly because computer training for seniors is a program that recently started and the number of participants turned out to be more than expected.
  • Having no Sunday hours at Woodridge resulted in no chess for children and teens as well as other heavily attended activities.
  • Buying fewer books and materials means fewer resources being made available to the neighborhood served by the Woodridge Branch and others like it.

Because attendance at our libraries continues to grow I believe that increasing funding to address the four areas of Personnel, Technology, Service Hours and Resources will increase the value of the DC Public Library and allow it to meet this growth.

At the end of my remarks to the Board of Library Trustees last July you were given recognition for the work you’ve done for the DC Public Library. I am honored now to do so in person!

On behalf of the Friends of the Woodridge Library I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank you Chairman Thomas for hearing the voices of our communities and helping to ensure that our libraries continue to serve our neighborhoods during these difficult economic times.

Thank You

FY2009 Performance of the District of Columbia Public Library, Georgetown Friends

Testimony on the FY2009 Performance of the District of Columbia Public Library, February 25th 2010 from Patricia Goldman and Bradford Gray, Ward 2 Residents and Board Members of the Friends of the Georgetown Library

Chairman Thomas and members of the Committee, we are pleased to speak today on behalf of the Friends of the Georgetown Library.

The library has been functioning very successfully and has been very busy in its temporary quarters on M Street. Even so, we are eagerly looking forward to the opening in October of our original library on R Street, which is being beautifully restored after the devastating fire of 2007. We appreciate the planning and commitment that has made this possible.

We do have serious concerns about the consequences of the budgetary situation and the possibility of further budget cuts. Staffing is a major concern. There is a hiring freeze and even though the staff works very hard, they have had cancel some programs, outreach opportunities and other community partnerships. The branch now has only 5 full time staff members, 1 part time person, 2 teen workers and half of the librarian, Tracy Sumler, who splits her time with Tenley. There is a major concern about what will happen with the original library re-opens. That building is, of course, much larger than the M Street storefront and will involve a much wider array of services. I know the librarian is concerned about how it will be staffed. It seems unlikely that there is surplus staff at other branches that can be shifted.

Further budget reductions will also likely mean a reduction in the hours the library is open, reducing service to the community. The library is now open 6 days a week and at least 8 hours a day. Access to the library services will suffer if hours are reduced to fewer hours per day or even one less day per week. We hope that that can be avoided.

Another concern is information technology, which has become an essential part of the modern library. In Georgetown, all of the staff and public computers are old and break down constantly. There is not budget now with which to replace them. We hope that there will be new computers and laptops as has been planned for the reopening of the historical library. But at this point, the library is evening rationing printing paper for the staff and general printers. The general supply budget has also been cut.

2010 is a very exciting year for the Georgetown branch as the rehabilitation of our historical building nears completion. But a library is not just a building but is a vital set of resources that benefit the entire community.

In a troubled economy when the library is a major resource for job seekers it will benefit the city economy to help these people though the library services.

We urge the City Council to do everything in its power to assure the continued vitality of our library system, not just in Georgetown but across the whole city.

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