Commentary: Library managers’ obstruction of innovation is unacceptable
October 23, 2012
When Steve Jobs challenged conventional thinking about computer design and functionality, he created the Apple brand that forever changed the computing world. The relentless pursuit of meaningful innovation should be no different for public institutions, especially with ongoing funding struggles that require smarter use of scarce public monies. Despite the tough economy, we see few ideas at the state and local levels for delivering government services more efficiently.
Unfortunately, the Oct. 17 letter to this paper by several public library managers obstructs viable alternatives to business as usual; their preconceptions and prejudices flatly reject innovation without performing any impartial analysis.
Our four separate Carson City public library systems and their materials are open to everyone in the community. Our public school libraries are similarly paid for with taxes to benefit the entire community.
Refusing to consider alternative methods of delivering library services ignores sound management principles and suggests stewards of these public assets are more concerned with maintaining a status quo than the efficient delivery of library services. Further, laws cited as excuses why innovation cannot be considered are not forever etched in stone and can be revised when a business case is made to do so.
We don’t need expensive consultants or biased library managers to evaluate potential changes. It has been suggested that several teams of University of Nevada, Reno, graduate business students conduct an internship project. That project would revolve around how Carson City public libraries and public school libraries might re-organize their operations, including, but not limited to, the following subjects:
1. Co-location of the city library in the underutilized and infrequently-open Nevada State Library and Archives with a potential skybridge to the adjacent, underutilized state Law Library.
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2. How to link the circulation and catalog systems of all Carson City libraries, university, public school, and urban libraries across the state, as Wyoming has already accomplished, so that materials are not needlessly duplicated and a seamless network exists for access and return of materials? (The Cooperative Library Automated Network does not include all rural libraries, or any public school libraries, community college, UNR, UNLV, or urban library systems in Washoe and Clark counties.)
3. How can statewide volume purchases of library materials reduce acquisition costs, trigger available discounts and stretch finite budgets?
4. How can administrative costs be pared through consolidating public library systems? (The Nevada State Library and the Carson City Library were one entity until 1969, but now burden the public treasury with two separate administrative structures.)
5. How can communities provide public access to existing public school computers? (Carson City’s public schools have over 3,000 computers that effectively sit idle after the school day ends.)
Such a project would unleash the creativity of university students to think in unconventional directions, require few out-of-pocket costs and provide an excellent training experience for those students to work on real-world problems. Carson City and the entire state could realize tangible service improvement and reduction of library operating costs if some or all of the changes prove workable after a thorough review.
Let’s also not forget that co-location of library resources, much like a shopping mall, provides convenience by offering one-stop service delivery. Bottom line, the disjointed and redundant public library and public school library systems in Carson City are ripe for review and innovation.
Until the public library incumbents open themselves to consideration of possible operating changes, they cannot reasonably justify that impartial analysis of operating innovations is unnecessary. There is much to consider, so let’s see progress, not stonewalling and obstinacy, by methodically and objectively evaluating public library improvements through UNR graduate business student teams.
• Fred Voltz is a Carson CIty resident.