Palo Alto's bedraggled library system should focus on increasing staff efficiency and better tapping technology before seeking voter support for funds to improve "very poor" facilities, City Auditor Sharon Erickson told the City Council Monday night.
Erickson said her audit of libraries depicts a rapidly changing department housed in "very poor" physical conditions.
The blunt 70-page document was released in July but not discussed until this week due to the council's August vacation.
Several council members said the audit will provide the city the opportunity to demonstrate it is using existing resources efficiently, before the upcoming $45 million bond measure -- targeted for June or November of 2008.
"I think the city should pat itself on the back a little bit for doing an audit like this," Councilman John Barton said. "There was a huge risk here."
If the audit had uncovered wrongdoing and waste, the city would have a tough time persuading voters to ante up for new facilities, he said.
With the bond money, the city hopes to construct a new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center and add on or refurbish Downtown and Main libraries.
Current plans call for adding one to three new positions if the expansions are approved, Library Director Diane Jennings said.
But Erickson countered that the new positions might not be necessary.
"Our recommendation is to look first at using staff as efficiently as we can," Erickson said. With the time before the bond measure, library leaders should investigate how to "stretch" current staffers, she said.
Jennings said she would examine staffing, but said it would be challenging to staff a larger facility for additional hours with the same number of people.
Erickson's confirmation that the city's libraries are dark and overcrowded with inadequate meeting space isn't new.
But she did provide several novel recommendations, including streamlining staffing schedules, speeding up material processing, reducing the number of employees that work infrequently and boosting the use of volunteers.
Erickson also said the library's leaders should continually evaluate how their jobs match with the rapidly evolving demands on the library.
"Technology is changing libraries faster than any other service in the city I can think of," Erickson said.
Jennings acknowledged that librarians spend less time answering questions and more time helping people use databases and other online resources.
The audit is available at http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/depts/aud/audit_reports.asp .