Solano County Library Expands Staff, Hours and Services
Public libraries throughout California have
experienced lean times for over two decades. When Proposition 13
reduced property taxes for homeowners in the 70's, it also
reduced funding for a number of state programs such as libraries.
Many public libraries had to cut back hours and offer fewer programs, including
those for children and young adults, as well as cut their budget
for purchasing books and other library materials.
In 1992/93, Solano County Library had to make a number of changes in
service due to lack of funding. One of these was to close all of
their libraries on Fridays. No one was happy about that. Ann
Cousineau, Director of Library Services, began efforts to identify methods
to remedy the situation. There was a two-year period of behind the
scenes work to test public opinion and gather backing that would enable
them to propose a county sales tax increase to benefit all of the public
libraries in the county. One obstacle was the fact that the state legislature
and the governor needed to approve legislation allowing an 1/8th of a cent
increase before any campaign could begin. The bill was passed in
1997, and a bond measure was placed before the county electorate in June
1998. With the help of an excellent campaign consultant, Mary
Bourguignon, well placed publicity and a simple but direct message, the
measure passed. It is a tribute to the hard work of Ann, Mary and
others, working tirelessly for many years, that the bond election was so
successful. The measure allowed the city and county libraries
to receive additional funding to increase services. We all know how
people feel about raising taxes--it is not usually well received.
However, in Solano County's case, the bond issue passed with 68 percent
of the vote, which gave a rousing thumbs-up to funding libraries!
Solano County Library received enough funds to add 15 professional
staff. They promised the public new hours, more services to young
adults and children, and additional materials for their collection to be
added beginning January 4, 1999. The new funding would enable them
to keep their 6 library locations open from a previous total of 203 hours
a week to 342 hours a week, which is an increase of 68 percent.
With the bond passing in June, there was only a six month period of time
to hire new staff. Since time was an issue, recruiting new staff
became the top priority.
There were a number of challenges, however, in the recruitment
process. One obstacle was the limited availability of children's
and young adult librarians. Because those positions had been affected
by funding cuts in prior years, there are fewer librarians with this background.
Another concern was competing with other cities and counties to hire professional
staff. There are more positions open in public libraries than ever
before, because many city and county libraries in California are experiencing
an increase in funding.
To help with these challenges,
Solano contracted with Advanced Information Management (AIM) to handle
the recruitment of pro-fessional staff. Having been in the library staffing business for 15 years, AIM was
well positioned for the task. AIM served as the central command control
center for all inquiries, applications, interviews and candidate recommendations.
In addition, AIM's private database of applicants yielded a number of
candidates in a relatively short period of time. Working together
with Ann Cousineau and Bonnie Katz, Assistant Director, applicants went
through second interviews with Solano staff. By January 4, two-third's
of the positions were in place, and the new hours commenced as planned.
A special banner graced the doors of the library, "Promises Made, Promises
"We could never have filled the positions that quickly if we
had not worked with AIM," commented Ann. "They really made the difference
in being able to keep our promise to the public." Growing support
for public libraries is a positive trend that seems to be continuing throughout
California. Fresno County Public Library recently passed a similar
bond measure. They will be expanding services throughout their 26
branches beginning this summer and adding over 200 new professional and
paraprofessional staff. With the advent of the Internet compounding the
scope of available information, more knowledgeable guidance is needed to
make sense of it all. Librarians have always been the vanguard of
access, organization and diversity of information in its various formats.
As people become more aware of the role their public libraries play in
providing a positive learning environment for their families, continued
support for libraries should become the norm rather than the exception.
Then, the main problem will be where are we going to find all of the librarians