Palo Alto's five libraries are in poor condition compared to 10 nearby libraries, an audit of thecity's libraries by City Auditor Sharon Erickson has concluded. (View the audit).
The audit looked at other libraries along with Palo Alto's.
"None of the libraries we visited was in as poor a condition as Palo Alto's libraries," the report concluded.
"Significant improvements are needed to bring Palo Alto up to par with other local communities. The city should address the significant library facility problems including overcrowding, poor lighting, and inadequate meeting space."
The audit also concluded that operating five libraries makes the library system more expensive to operate than if operations were consolidated to fewer libraries. But the audit also noted that operating a branch system "is ultimately a community and policy choice."
Here is Erickson's summary of the audit conclusions:
AUDIT OF LIBRARY OPERATIONS
The City of Palo Alto operates five branch libraries comprising a total of 51,000 square feet of library space. The City is proposing to expand and renovate Library facilities, and requested that the City Auditor's Office audit Library operations to identify potential operating efficiencies.
Palo Alto libraries are in poor condition. During the course of our review we visited 10 nearby libraries. None of the libraries we visited was in as poor a condition as Palo Alto's libraries. Significant improvements are needed to bring Palo Alto up to par with other local communities.
The City should address the significant Library facility problems including overcrowding, poor lighting, and inadequate meeting space. Renovation plans should be analyzed for staffing implications in order to minimize the need for additional staff. The City should also fund routine, ongoing replacement of furniture, shelving, and minor repairs in Library facilities.
Choosing to deliver services through five branches results in a more expensive system. The marginal cost of the branch system is not easily quantifiable; multiple branches require duplication of effort in many areas.
But the branch library system is ultimately a community and policy choice. We recommend weekend inter-branch deliveries to smooth Circulation workload, and consolidated scheduling that allows managers to see the overall staffing picture across the branches.
The nature of the Library's workload is changing rapidly. Technology and self-service are changing Circulation workload. We estimate self-checkout saved 1,819 hours of work in FY 2005-06 while holds on checked-in items added 1,458 hours of work. The ongoing impact of technology highlights the need for annual analysis of workload shifts as a management tool. Checking-in materials is now the largest part of the circulation workload in terms of number of transactions.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) has the potential to reduce staff time associated with checking-in materials and should be pursued. In addition, the Library should continue to explore efficiencies in Technical Services in the areas of cataloging and processing.
We also found that decreasing numbers of reference questions and increasing computer use are impacting the nature of reference librarians' work. During the period we reviewed, we found more than half of reference librarian time was off-desk. We recommend establishing objectives and performance measures to track the volume and outcomes of off-desk and program activity.
Finally, in light of on-going changes in the Library's workload, we recommend that the Library periodically reassess staffing distribution.
Reconfiguring schedules would improve efficiency of staffing coverage and may allow the Library to open more hours. Convenient access to library facilities is a key customer value demonstrated by the 71 percent of library survey respondents who said having the libraries open additional hours is "very" or "somewhat" important to them.
Over the last nine years, authorized staffing has increased and open hours have decreased. Our analysis shows that most full-time regular staff work 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and that staffing is lower during busy weekend and evening hours.
Before requesting additional staff, the Library should use different approaches to scheduling, including staggering shifts and reducing hours worked while the Library is closed to (1) better correlate staffing patterns to times when the Library is busy (evenings and weekends) and (2) potentially open more hours.
In addition, schedule changes could reduce operational costs by eliminating Sunday overtime pay for full-time employees. We further recommend the Library formalize a list and process for substitute employees who can fill in at various branch facilities.
Convert very-low-hour positions to more hours and reduce the number of job titles. The Library has 57 FTE (full time equivalent) positions but 104 employees, and a total of 13 librarian-related job titles. We recommend reducing the number of job titles to simplify the system.
Increase the use of volunteers and establish measurable objectives. The Library should set goals for increasing volunteer hours. The Library should also set goals for Operation Homebound. In addition, the Citywide volunteer policy needs to be completed and fingerprinting policies clarified.
Improve internal controls over Library collections, cash handling, and fees and fines. The Library collection is a valuable City asset; however we found that the theft-detection system has been partially deactivated. In addition, we recognize that loaner laptops provide convenience, but they are a high-risk item to lend. Controls over cash could be strengthened, and collection procedures for outstanding fees and fines could be improved.
Our report includes a total of 32 recommendations to improve library operations. I will present this report to the City Council on July 9th. Staff has reviewed the information in this report and the City Manager's response is attached.
We thank the staff in the Library Department for their cooperation and assistance during our review.
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