The Salt Lake City Council and Salt Lake City Public Library (SPCPL) Board received a briefing yesterday on the library’s recently completed performance audit. The audit was initially mooted on October 29, 2011, when the board accepted Director Beth Elder’s resignation, Julianne Hancock, SLCPL’s manager of communications and library innovation, told LJ.
The audit provides a blueprint for SLCPL’s continuing recovery from what the report called “a period of painful turmoil.” Elder’s management was the target of substantial criticism and cited as the cause of low morale during her three year tenure, particularly after a management reorganization in January 2011.
(Elder came to SLCPL from Denver in 2008, following previous Director Nancy Tessman’s retirement. Tessman went out on a high note after SLCPL was named LJ’s 2006 Library of the Year. After five years in retirement, she was recently named executive director of Fort Vancouver, WA,’s Regional Library District.)
“There have been significant improvements in morale and in the organizational culture since the transitional leader [Linda Hamilton] and her deputy assumed their roles in November 2011,” the audit found. However, it added, the process is not yet over. “There is still considerable hurt and anger on the part of staff, managers, and Board members. […] It takes time to heal and rebuild trust and respect.”
The audit was conducted, beginning in April, by Management Partners in cooperation with Jane Light, library consultant and former director of the San Jose Public Library. It benchmarked SLCPL against its peers in Utah and systems around the country known for their best practices, including Ann Arbor, MI; San Jose, CA; Richland County, SC; and Columbus Metropolitan Library, OH. The report concluded “SLCPL’s costs per capita are much higher than those of the Utah peer libraries but similar to three of the four national best practice libraries;” quite efficient, considering that SLCPL has more than double the median number of visitors per capita compared to its national peers.
The libraries other greater cost drivers are also mostly factors no library would consider a problem: besides having more visits, they include being open more hours and having more square footage and holdings. Only one factor, “the unusually generous amount of paid time off received by employees,” (22 days a year from first hire) stood out as an obvious place to cut back.
Beyond cost cutting, one major recommendation of the report is that the library stick to the decision-making model already used by the transitional director, in which the director listens to opinions but makes the final decision, rather than bringing most decisions to a Leadership Team of middle managers and not moving forward without “substantial agreement”, which had been the past practice. “The resulting decisions were neither timely nor bold. The result was often analysis paralysis,” the audit said of the former model.
Management Partners also recommended that the library involve program managers and the Leadership Team in identifying proposed modifications to the Strategic Plan measures to make them qualitative as well as quantitative, not unrealistically high, and narrower in scope.
It further recommended restructuring the staff – not cutting any headcount, but moving people around to eliminate the separation between those involved in implementing the Strategic Plan and those with unit and branch management responsibilities, as well as adding a few new positions to handle new developments such as two new branches and a major RFID project.
Other recommendations include a new employee handbook, performance evaluation system, and email usage policy, many of which have either already been implemented or are underway. Hancock told LJ the email policy is complete, and the RFID consultant RFP has been posted. (The email policy is particularly significant in light of recent history: an October 2011 version was considered a “gag rule” by library staff.) For the rest of the recommendations, Hancock said, “Is it is just going to be a matter of prioritizing and deciding which ones to do first.”
The board has until the beginning of August to submit comments to the council, according to Hancock. Once the council votes to accept the audit, the library board will work with Management Partners to implement those recommendations still outstanding. “This is part of the transitional plan to prepare us for a permanent director,” Hancock added. The library began the search for a permanent director at the beginning of June and expects to close it at the end of July.
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