November 24, 2017

Expanded Hours Approved for San José Public Library

SJPL_logoAll 23 San José Public Library (SJPL), CA, branches will stay open an additional two days per week starting July 1 under a city budget plan stewarded by Mayor Sam Liccardo, whose political support is helping to fast-track a long-awaited realization of the library system’s top priority.

Since FY11–12, SJPL locations have been open either Monday to Thursday (34 hours) or Wednesday to Saturday (33). Individual branch hours will jump to 47 hours each week if Liccardo’s plan, a $2 million initiative to be paid for through a combination of library tax reserves and city funds, gains City Council approval. Along with simply getting more patrons through the door, this expansion from four to six days per week would be viewed as proof of SJPL’s emergence from recessionary doldrums that saw usage of the library that had been named LJ’s 2004 Library of the Year sink and, at one point, four brand-new facilities sit unused.

An additional 36,000 library patrons per week—including 7,000 children and teens arriving after school—will be served by the proposed hours expansion, SJPL director Jill Bourne told Library Journal last week. It was Bourne, a 2009 LJ Mover & Shaker, who spent much of the last 18 months orchestrating the branch hours expansion strategy, and she sold Liccardo on the idea in time for the mayor’s March 19 budget message.

“It’s part of a concerted strategy to make those critical investments in our youth,” Liccardo told LJ in a recent phone interview. “During tough times we’re laser-focused on the urgent and the immediate. Too often what becomes a casualty of that focus is the future.”

Added Bourne, “I’m thrilled. Since I’ve come here, that’s been the conversation, when can we get the hours expansion.… We did our work. We did our homework and we made it hard to say no.”

There appear to be no political roadblocks barring the way. On March 24, the San José City Council unanimously approved the mayor’s list of spending priorities. Earlier, Councilman Don Rocha, in the past a vocal critic of Liccardo’s policies, told the San José Mercury News he was “100 percent on board” with the expansion of branch hours. More budget hearings and negotiations are scheduled before a final June 16 vote on the spending plan.

Two weeks after the vote, Bourne expects to have all branch libraries open six days per week. Plans are already under way to hire 36 new FTEs and several part-timers to staff the expansion, which includes Saturday hours at every neighborhood branch and two more days of weekday afternoon services—the latter seen as vital for impoverished neighborhoods where many children rely on libraries as safe after-school destinations.

“It’s efficient. It’s sustainable. It meets the needs of the community,” Bourne said of the expansion.

San José, a city of about 1 million residents in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, flourished during the tech boom of the 1990s. But as the dot-com bubble burst around the end of the millennium, followed by the nationwide recession of 2008, the city stumbled through difficult economic times.

SJPL was certainly not immune. Staff and program budgets were pared back. The system even lacked the money to operate four brand-new branches constructed after a city bond issue. Those facilities—the Educational Park, Calabazas, Seven Trees, and Bascom branches—all opened for business in 2013 after the mayor and council dedicated money to staff them in FY12–13. Bourne said the library was the only department to receive increased funding that during a time of severe municipal belt-tightening.

SJPL’s recovery has been slow and, at times, painful, but it is happening. Last June, voters approved a 25-year renewal of San José’s library parcel tax, under which homeowners pay $29.84 annually for library services. The ballot question needed 67 percent voter approval to pass; it got 81. That told Bourne—and Liccardo—that libraries remained a civic priority.

SJPL recorded 6.37 million visitors in FY13–14. Its operating budget for that period was about $37 million, which paid for 317 FTEs.

BOURNE ROLLS UP HER SLEEVES

Restoring library hours has been the overriding mission for Bourne since she took over as SJPL director in July 2013. Arriving from San Francisco, where she served as deputy city librarian, Bourne rolled up her sleeves and began mapping out a plan that she knew had to be lean, stable, and would best serve patrons’ needs. “I understand how to do it,” she told LJ. “I believe so strongly in it as well.… It all starts with being open. We have to be open.”

In one respect, Bourne’s timing was good; San José city government was finally coming out of its spiral of budget deficits and service cuts. The brighter financial picture helped soften the political ground for expanded library hours, but it didn’t make the process any less painstaking.

Bourne focused on streamlining SJPL’s service model, shoring up funding sources, expanding the role of volunteers, using new technologies to save money, and enlisting staff members’ help in shaping a more cost-effective workforce.

Completion of the “Audit of Library Operations” by San José’s city auditor was another key element in Bourne’s plan. Fifteen recommendations were put forward, 12 of which were incorporated into the library proposal. These involved a variety of efficiency strategies, mostly regarding staff usage and deployment.

GOOD NEWS AT LAST

With much of the legwork done, Bourne’s next job was to get city hall behind the plan.

The library director began prepping material in anticipation of a full-blown presentation before the mayor and council. But a chance meeting with Liccardo at a civic function proved to be another lucky break.

As they chatted informally, Bourne spoke of her plans to boost library branch hours. It piqued Liccardo’s interest enough to prompt an invitation for the library director to fully pitch her idea at a meeting with the mayor and his aides on February 24. That day, as Bourne recalled, a staffer told her she had 15 minutes to make her case. “I said, I only need ten.”

Working from a two-page fact sheet, Bourne explained to Liccardo why expanded hours made sense and how the financials could work. “It becomes a very compelling message when you distill it down,” the library director said.

“Jill was actually very persuasive,” Liccardo told LJ.

What resonated most, the mayor and Bourne agreed in separate interviews, was data that demonstrated how San José residents would be affected. Two additional days of service across SJPL meant 90,000 more collection items borrowed, another 7,600 computer sessions, and a rise in program attendees.

A few days after the meeting, the mayor’s office phoned Bourne to say the library plan would be part of the mayor’s budget message. It was news she had been waiting 18 months to hear.

“I did get a little teary-eyed, I have to say,” Bourne said.

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Comments

  1. What exciting news for the library system. New to the SJPL, I was disheartened by the lack of available hours, and staff. Coming from a vibrant library system SJPL pales in comparison.
    I hope that the positive changes will allow me to use the library more freely.
    Now if only we can eliminate the punitive things about the library, for example only 5 books allowed on my hold list, and add a “Wish” list to my account where I can add books for future reading. As well as a more user friendly interface on line.
    Thank you for listening.

    • @fwilson There is a “wish list” feature on the SJPL catalog. When you are logged in to your account, search for an item and then look to the right side of the title. There is a group of icons under the words “Additional Actions”. The first icon is a shopping basket–click on it and the title will be placed in your basket. This basket is only a temporary holding place, though, so remember to go up to “my book cart” at the top right of the screen next to your name. Once inside your cart, check the box next to the item and hit “save to list” on the menu above. You will be prompted to save to an existing list or create a new one. You can have several lists. You can find the list later by clicking on your name at the top right of the screen and clicking “my lists” under your account.

      This is a great way to keep track of lots of different types of items!