Friends of WMRLS Meet MLS

Greg Pronevitz, MLS Executive Director, Carolyn Noah, Assistant Director, and Mary King, Advisor, attended the August 13th meeting of the Friends of the WMRLS Board at the MLS Whately office.  The Board meeting was followed by a public meeting attended by over 40 library staff and supporters and Representative John Scibak.

Friends of WMRLS

Debbie Bruneau, incoming President, Friends of WMRLS; Mary King, MLS Advisor; Representative John Scibak; Toni Golinski-Foisy, President, Friends of WMRLS; Greg Pronevitz, MLS Executive Director; and Carolyn Noah, MLS Assistant Director

Greg and Carolyn learned about the history of the Friends and discussed advocacy opportunities with members of the Friends Board.  At the public meeting, Greg and Carolyn made a brief presentation to address concerns noted in a recent Friends of WMRLS survey, i.e., the future of delivery services; continuing education opportunities in western Massachusetts; plans for the Whately facility; and library advocacy.

Librarians and library supporters gathered for the open meeting.  Over 40 librarians and library supporters attended.

I was grateful for the invitation and anxious to learn more about western Massachusetts and its libraries.

Massachusetts libraries have lost much due to the economic crisis.  The MBLC had to make some tough decisions when a severe budget cut was imposed for fy2011.  After much consideration, the decision to merge regional library systems was made.  The reasons for focusing the budget reductions in this program area were many but there was strong consideration given to ensuring the viability of state aid to public libraries.  A planning process was developed to get input from stakeholders and when the question about how many organizations was raised among board members of the former regions, a large majority voted for a single organization with a statewide presence.

The transition planning committee had a huge challenge.  They moved ahead and determined a preliminary budget; core services; staffing levels.  All of these decisions led to a streamlined organization in which about $2 million will be saved by reducing staffing levels by about 50 percent; closing four offices; and eliminating several programs.  That is the down side.

The up side is that we have sufficient funds to continue the efforts in many core service areas and to empower libraries to serve their members and meet future challenges.

Core services as determined by the Transition Team and adopted by the MLS Executive Board:

  • Advisory Services
  • Continuing Education
  • Materials and Supply Cooperative Purchasing
  • Delivery
  • Shared Integrated Library System — MassCat
  • Mediated Interlibrary Loan
  • Summer Reading Program
  • Online Content, e.g., Databases (This service has not been provided in western Massachusetts for some time now with the exception of statewide services.)

We need to take advantage of all opportunities to provide services efficiently and assist member libraries in efficiency to weather the ongoing economic situation:

  • Online content buying power
  • Delivery buying power
  • MassCat governance is simplified
  • Advisors have statewide responsibilities and new expertise is available
  • We are also working closely with the Mass. Broadband Inst. and MBLC, and hopefully the Gates Foundation to expand broadband access in western Mass.
  • We will seek other grants and opportunities to empower member libraries to provide services and meet challenges

Unfortunately with the 29 percent budget decrease we had to cut back too.  For example;

  • In addition to closing four offices, we lost many staff members.  With six regions we had more than double the number of professional librarians and advisors available to assist members.  22 then and 9 now.
  • The budget for mediated interlibrary loan was cut in half.  The centers in Wellesley and Quincy are not able to provide return shipping and libraries must do their own shipping for out of state loans.
  • Supplemental deposit collection services were eliminated.

Delivery—Many respondents to the Friends’ survey were concerned about the future of delivery and its ongoing efficiency.

I understand the concern about the future of library delivery services.  It was decided prior to the merger that we would seek a statewide delivery contract to improve efficiency in member libraries.  The statewide Autosort RFP Task Force has been working on it for about 18 months.  The transition planning team anticipated this process and MLS Executive Board is committed to this process.

The Executive Board has committed to running delivery for this fiscal year as it ran last year.  We have no plans to make significant changes to the way delivery operates out of this office.

The group brought up a number of individual concerns:

  • A librarian that is scheduled for two stops per week said that she was concerned that the new contract might end the on-board sorting that provide such a great service to her library’s patrons.  While it is true that, for the long-term, on-board sorting is not likely to continue, I don’t believe that this will be significantly less-efficient for a given library because our turn around time expectations are for one working day.
  • One attendee expressed concern that all items from even the westernmost communities would be shipped to a central location many miles away and that this sounded inefficient.  The RFP does not specify that all sorting must take place at one location.  We expect respondents to define the most efficient operations and that could include multiple sort sites.  The result, however, needs to be one-working day turnaround for sorting.
  • Two alternatives were suggested by attendees to reduce the workload and/or assist with funding, i.e., allow patrons to wait for their own library’s copy if they so wish and to allow patrons to pay an optional fee to support this service.  The optional fee discussion was, of course, followed by discussions about the merits and fairness of such fees.  These discussions need to continue in a long-range planning environment to address the ongoing growth of library delivery volume and to determine our long-term position on resource sharing.

Goals of the RFP:

We want to simplify the process so that library staff will scan a barcode to put a book into transit and then put it in a bin with no other steps.  This will save time and money in member libraries by reducing the library’s daily workload.

Eliminate library need to:

  • Label 15 million outgoing items each year
  • Bundle dozens of books daily and thousands and thousands of books annually
  • Presort your materials

These are short-term goals, in the longer term, we hope to allow for:

  • Better tracking of items in transit
  • Allow for tote level check in and check out, i.e., eliminate the need to scan paged items at the circulation desk.

Other groups studied different aspects of this valuable service.  We have other work to do to assist libraries in managing delivery services by encouraging efficient, safe, and ergonomic practices.  I believe that this RFP will open the door for libraries to adopt more employee-friendly practices.

Continuing Education for library staff was another concern raised in the Friends’ survey:  will there be courses offered in western Mass/Berkshires?  Will there be in person programs?

Carolyn addressed this topic and stated that MLS is committed to be and to remain a statewide service provider for libraries of all types, all sizes, in all parts of Massachusetts.   We announced over 30 in-person events last month.  One-third of these events were scheduled in this part of the Commonwealth.

We will be monitoring programs and events in terms of location and attendance to insure that we are providing services statewide to all types and sizes of libraries.  Of course this includes this part of the state.

Physical presence of the MLS in the westernmost counties was also a concern of Friends’ survey respondents.

We are committed to providing services in all parts of the Commonwealth.  We will hold programs and provide services in all counties, including Berkshire, Hampshire, Hampden, and Franklin.  I’m looking forward to visiting all Massachusetts counties personally.

What I cannot promise, however, is that we will be able to duplicate all CE events in every county.  We will evaluate the needs in all parts of the state and do our best to address them efficiently with our existing resources.

I am a proponent of having multiple offices for MLS and would like to retain the Whately facility.  The six-region model and our former larger budget were clearly better for targeting local needs.  Now we have to provide services in 14 counties with significantly fewer resources.

We have notified potential delivery contractors that we are willing to negotiate a lease on the Whately building.  If that doesn’t work out, we can look to other firms who might have a use for it.  It would be very helpful to reduce the cost of owning and operating this facility and making its training facilities available in western Massachusetts.

We have made arrangements to swap training facilities with CW/MARS to allow them to use the Whately facility and MLS can use CW/MARS’ Worcester training facilities.

Representative John Scibak said that he had begun to explore the possibility of requesting that the USDA forgive the loan on the building to allow it to become a true asset to MLS.  This course will be explored immediately.

Another attendee recommended that MLS keep town officials in Whately informed about its intents and needs.  We will follow up on this suggestion too.

Advocacy for Western Massachusetts libraries.  What role can individuals take?

We need you to set an example and help the rest of the Commonwealth in getting the word out.  Your efforts have been phenomenal!  I congratulate you and ask you to participate in joint efforts with:

  • MLA Legislative Committee
  • Breakfast on Breakfasts
  • MSLA Activities
  • MLTA
  • MFOL Project Alert
  • Your Bus to Legislative Day and the Rally
  • An advocacy summit

Can we all join forces to support libraries across all of Massachusetts?

Representative Scibak suggested that we get started early to do our best to influence the entire budget process, including the formulation of House One.

Other Question and Answers:

Q.  How can we help the ILL centers understand the needs of small libraries?

A.  We will work with them to streamline communications and facilitate such knowledge.

Q.  Can MLS put together videos to get the word out?  For both general advocacy and to provide insight into small libraries.

A.  We will explore these options.

(Contributed by Greg Pronevitz, Ex. Dir.)