April 15, 2014

Tulsa City-County Library Budget Cuts $1 Million

Oklahoma’s Tulsa City-County Library (TCCL) cut $1 million from its operating budget in anticipation of lost revenue from the state, which recently made changes to its tax code. For the fiscal year which began July 1, the budget is now $26.4 million. That includes $607,000 in materials cuts, and $327,000 in personnel cuts. (The latter will come from retirement and attrition, not layoffs).

Although the materials budget will take the biggest hit, Gail Morris, TCCL’s CFO, is confident that the collection won’t suffer. “We just adopted [collection management system] Decision Center. It gives us such granular information about collection use, it will really help us align the collection with our customers’ needs. And percentage-wise, the materials budget has been a little high, comparatively,” Morris told LJ.

With regard to the personnel cuts, she said, “Often times when you have a vacancy it takes some time to fill a position. With the new budget, it may take a little longer than usual.” The library plans to fill open positions from within, and she predicts that some staff who are currently working 20 hours a week may temporarily take on other part time positions. The library system employs 363 full and part time staff members to serve 402,652 registered patrons at 25 branches (plus one bookmobile). “We do not expect our turnover rate to change significantly,” Morris added.

An educated guess

The budget cuts are based on a recent amendment to the state constitution that exempts intangible personal property (traditional forms of which include trademarks, copyrights, and patents) from the state property tax. This exemption will mean less revenue for the library. But it’s not yet clear how much less revenue, because “We had to forecast our tax revenue stream with no knowledge of statewide calculations,” of property value, explained Morris. “Our budget had to be approved before the calculations were issued.” The OK State Board of Equalization (the tax administration agency) has now calculated the valuation, but the results have not yet been broken down by county. These will be released in August, and “We should have some idea of the impact on the budget then,” says Morris. But it’s not until later in the fall, when the tax rolls are certified, that Tulsa City-County Library will know just how much revenue from state property tax it has for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Morris is hopeful, and believes the budget will end up bigger than predicted: “We don’t think we’ll receive the entire million, but I’m very optimistic that we’ll receive a little more than we forecast for right now.”

Freeing staff by reducing barriers to self-service

Morris does not anticipate that staff cuts will impair services, since they will coincide with the pilot testing of a new facilities plan designed to “reduce barriers to self-directed service,” according to Morris. The testing will take place at the Librarium, a temporary location which will serve Tulsa’s downtown once the Central Library closes for renovation on August 30. The Librarium will feature more and better signage, lower shelves that allow a clearer view of the building, and extended lending periods for materials, to make it significantly easier for patrons to explore the library without assistance. In addition, “We are going to rearrange the collection by activity level, as opposed to by age group, so all the heavy use items will be in one area. We’re also testing a DVD vending option and new self-check machines,” Morris said.

If these innovations are successful, they’ll be implemented at other branches, and, “We’ll be redesigning our buildings to make them [look] more consistent throughout the system. For instance, our self-check system will always be on the right, which should make it more intuitive for customers to use.”

In an interview with Tulsa World, Gary Shaffer, TCCL’s CEO, estimated that with the new plan, “Eighty percent of people will be able to navigate the library on their own.” Currently, about half that, or 30-40 percent of patrons, use services like the self-check machines, according to Morris.

“Our staffing will be more efficient,” says Morris. “If more people use the [RFID-enabled] smart shelves, we’ll need less people at the circulation desk. We want to create some videos to show people how to download books without a lot of staff intervention. This will free up staff to help customers who need a different level of help. Right now when someone needs more assistance, it’s stressful on the staff,” which is stretched thin.  Among the plans for the less-stressed staff are roving librarians equipped with handheld devices who can approach patrons in the stacks to ask if they need help.

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