GOODMAN: Library needs new business model

Why must the library cut service hours again? In the beginning of 2009, Gwinnett County library branches were open 71 hours per week. We are now being told those hours will be cut to 40 this fall. Why?

Only part of the answer is the reduction in county and state funding. The other, and the most important part, is an inability or unwillingness of the library to adapt to a changing environment. Over the past three years we've seen tectonic changes to our nation's economy and our county and state government's finances.

The money is simply not there. But that's the case for many families and numerous businesses in Gwinnett and across the country that do manage to live within their means by adapting and changing. Unfortunately, the library is stuck operating under a business model that may have been ideal for 2009 and before, but wholly inappropriate and crippling for the economic, financial and technological realities of today or the future.

Under the library's current business model, revenue, staffing levels and service hours are linked together in a death spiral of reduced service hours and depleted financial reserves. It is time to break those links.

What is needed is not more money, but a new business model. One that looks at the world as it really is, not as it was or as we wish it to be. For example, the library has boxed itself into an untenable position by promising to treat all branches the same. While politically expedient, this approach does not treat all customers fairly.

The hours the system closes "all" branches may affect customers at one branch more severely than the customers at another branch where those hours were not a important. So treating everyone equally ends up ensuring that no one is treated fairly. In fact, a survey of library patrons showed that a majority would be OK with "their" branch being closed on a particular day as long as another branch within convenient driving distance was open.

Similarly, the library administration needs to focus more clearly on preserving library services than on preserving library jobs. While the number of full-time equivalent positions has been reduced, primarily through attrition, these tweaks affected only the lowest level job classifications. Personnel accounts for 70 percent of the library's operating costs. The library must adopt more flexible staffing models that include adjustments to all positions, classifications, ranks and job descriptions.

Seeking new revenue sources to address this crisis, as proposed by the library board chairman, only delays the time till the library makes needed changes. I do not believe turning to the private sector to replace lost government funding, as he proposes, is a realistic or viable approach to correcting what are essentially operational and organizational issues. It's fantasy to believe the library can raise the millions of dollars needed to make up for the funding shortfall by relying on improvised fundraising or advertising gimmicks.

The library is not a high school football team trying to raise money for uniforms. The library staff and a volunteer board do not have the expertise, experience or time to carry out such a charge. And a staff so stretched that it's unable to keep the doors open more than 40 per week, surely can't have the time to get involved in selling advertising or fundraising.

For the sake of the residents of Gwinnett County who depend on library services, we can not afford to waste another day expecting to find a pot of gold waiting for us at the end of a rainbow. The library board and administration should be using its time, energy and creative talents to develop and adopt a 21st century operational model. That should be their top priority and operating policy.

Dick Goodman, a Suwanee resident, is a Library Board of Trustees member.


denisev1 3 years, 7 months ago

The library needs to pass a budget based on the funding they have, not the funding they wish they could attain through donations. Any additional funding raised through donations and potential advertising revenue can be incorporated into a future budget when the money is actually in hand.


HalJ 3 years, 7 months ago

If educators are seriously considering providing an ipad to every student to eliminate the need for textbooks, in something less than the 12 years it will take for the first unbooked kids to pass through the schools, libraries will become moot, won't they? You can't fight the future, but one out-of-the-box way to deal with the problems we'll face moving forward would be to transfer full responsibility for our libraries to the school system. GCPS already gets 55% of this retiree's property taxes and from the looks of the magnificent facilities they build to teach and play football in, they are pretty adept managers for the most part. Consolidating book purchases and human resources, and perhaps making even better use of facilities might prove beneficial to both entities and even to we, the taxpayers.


TOWG 3 years, 7 months ago

Why don't they just charge higher fees?


HalJ 3 years, 7 months ago

A further thought: Change the library system from an expense to a potential revenue generator -- by privatizing the system, paying managers to operate the entire system while the county participates in revenues collected from individuals and commercial uses, advertising and other innovations, maybe including after-school and weekend babysitting (OK, childcare) fees.


HalJ 3 years, 7 months ago

The more I think about the privatization angle, the better I like it... add coffee, maybe snacks, maybe even sandwiches? Sell magazines, selected books -- new and from the shelves. Sell the kindle and/or nook systems and arrange with publishers to 'participate' in downloads -- instead of being made irrelevant by the changing technologies, embrace them and move forward as neighborhood knowledge centers... consider encouraging community use of the facilities for meetings and small group classes... Find the right people to operate the system for proffit and I'm confident the county and its citizens will benefit, and the operators will too.


rascal66 3 years, 6 months ago

The Gwinnett Libraries need to stop trying to extend its footprint in the community and simply try to hold onto the services it already offers. Earlier this year they had a fashion show with shredded books and magazines. Seriously?? What is the educational value in that? They do not sell books in the library just over their website. Whatever happened to those good ole fashioned baked sales and books being sold in the lobbies of some of the libraries? The library owes the lion's share of its budget to one source: local tax dollars. And before it cuts hours again; it needs to think seriously about furlough days and even possible layoffs. Fact: even with the shorter hours starting Oct 23. there is the same number of staff which means more staff crammed into the shorter days. Doesn't seem productive. It is time the library trustees vote no confidence in the library directors and dismiss them all.


CD 3 years, 6 months ago

@ Hal: maybe Brett at Propeller Investments would like to privatize the library and land aircraft in the parking lot as the kids read and are nannyized by the staff. Bannister and Kenerly could read the children stories about how the grinch stole Christmas and Bonzo stole fruit.


booklover2 3 years, 2 months ago

State law does not allow libraries to charge for lending items or charging for internet service. Gwinnett libraries would lose state funding if they charged for those services. On the other hand, by allowing Better World Books (a FOR PROFIT company) to take all the donated books to sell, Gwinnett only gets at the most probably 12-15 % of the sale price and Better World Books keeps 85 -88 % of the profit. If they had their Friends of the Library Groups (volunteers) sell the book they would get 100% of the profit.
Better World Books is a great business model for the business. All their inventory they sell they get at no cost. They have "sold" themselves as a company that helps libraries and literacy groups raise money but as a privately owned company, they do not have to report how much they actually donate, which is I would suspect is very little based on my non-profit company's dealings with them.


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