By Michelle Lee
This article has been updated to include information about the new CEO.
The Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in North Carolina has a new leader at the helm working to help the library rebound from dramatic budget and service cuts. David W. Singleton was appointed the Director of Libraries at the beginning of the year, and his promotion was announced last month by the library board.
Singleton had served as the interim director since June, and he previously served as the Director of Library Services for four years. The library’s previous director, Charles Brown, resigned effective June 30, 2011. (Brown accepted the position of director of the New Orleans Public Library in November 2011.)
The library is in the midst of creating a new strategic and technology plan, Singleton said. A new library foundation will be unveiled in the fall, and library and county officials are working on strengthening their relationship.
Library Trustee Ed Williams said, “The library has gone through terrible, painful times. Staff morale has taken a great hit,” Williams said. “We’re trying to show that what we are doing is starting over, and starting over with an eye to the future and David is the future of library services.”
“The people who work for him recommended him unanimously,” Williams added.
Singleton returned the compliment. “I can’t say enough about how pleased I am with the staff, the response of the staff over the last couple of years,” he said. “The staff is not only stepping up in terms of being asked to do more, but also in terms of their continued innovation (and) willingness to continue to progress at the citizen level is amazing.”
Turning the Corner
Among the hard times Williams referred to, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library had to lay off 180 workers in 2010, close four library locations and reduce operations to four days a week at community libraries, Singleton said. The library’s operating budget went down from $41.2 million in 2008-2009 to $31.1 million last year, including services provided by Mecklenburg County on behalf of the library.
However, things may be back on the upswing: The library received $2 million from Mecklenburg County this year to hire back 40 full time workers, expand library hours from four to six days per week at six regional locations, and implement 35 out of 39 recommendations made in a future of the library plan created by a citizen’s task force, Singleton said. Among the recommendations were a focus on basic library services, redistributing staff to expand hours, and making the county manager or his representative an ex-officio of the Board of Trustees.
The 2013 budget talks are underway. Singleton said no additional cuts are expected from the library’s current budget of $28.8 million (excluding services provided by the county), and the library is requesting an additional $1.7 million in funds to rehire another 25 FTEs to provide Sunday hours at libraries, to add key positions in early literacy programs and to expand the digital and print collection.
Williams said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the library’s financial future. “Nobody thinks the recession is over. Unemployment is still very high and we anticipate along road year by year,” Williams said. “We’re not going to immediately get back to where we were, but we do see us going forward and we do have the support of the county commissioners.”
Getting With the Program
The task force asked for a plan that showed all programs and the costs associated with them. Singleton said the library has created a new online database to record the real costs associated with programs, supplies and staff time. As a result, the library is on track to present 12,000 programs from July 2011 to June 2012 at a cost of $2.19 per person, Singleton said. The programs focus on literacy, educational success and workforce development.
There has been also a larger focus on the impacts and outcomes of programs. The library has been working with The Larry King Center for Building Children’s Futures on early childhood education and school readiness issues, creating outcome models for programs and funding measures, Singleton said.
The library’s job help center, which opened in February 2010, continues to be an important community resource. Singleton said 900 unique patrons use it each month and he estimated about five percent of the unemployed people in Mecklenburg County use it.
The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library also plans to focus more on parents and online reading for children and teens in the annual summer reading program. Singleton said the library will partner with the Long Creek Elementary School in tracking standardized test scores and to see if there is any difference in grades between students who did and did not participate in the summer reading program.
Two Heads Better Than One
The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library also completed its search for a permanent CEO shortly after naming Singleton to the director post. ( Interim CEO Vick Phillips came on board when Brown announced his resignation.) The Board decided to retain the CEO role in addition to the directorship at its meeting last November. On April 9, the board named Lenoir C. “Lee” Keesler, Jr. as the library’s CEO. He will start July 1.
Keesler was selected by a search committee made up of board members, a representative of the county manager, and Singleton, supported by Mecklenburg County Human Resources recruiter Shelley Book. He is currently Director of Market Development at Barry, Evans, Josephs & Snipes, an insurance and executive benefits firm, and previous served as president and CEO of the Arts & Science Council of Charlotte-Mecklenburg from 2004-2009.
Keesler will lead the Library in the creation of a new strategic plan as recommended by the task force, and will focus on strategic organizational functions, including the development of an annual budget with Mecklenburg County.
As to why the library needs two leaders, Singleton “is essentially a chief operating officer,” Phillips said when Singleton was named to the interim directorship. In a statement issued at the time, the Library Board said that structure would remain the same with the new CEO. The State Library of North Carolina determined that this organizational model is in compliance with state law because the director of libraries leads the delivery of professional library services. “They also find it acceptable due to unique circumstances in the current and foreseeable economic environment,” the library said in a statement.