State Library of Ohio and The Ohio State University Extension to Offer Program for Public Library Employees
By Jennifer McKell, Director of Chillicothe & Ross County Public Library
Library Directors all over the state are familiar with the process I went through in late summer and early fall of 2009. We reacted with shock and horror to the latest devastating round of state budget cuts. The next moment we found ourselves rethinking every aspect of our libraries in order to make the necessary cuts and still be able to deliver basic services. We had been tightening our budgets and introducing new efficiencies for years, since the cuts began in 2001. What could we possibly do that we hadn’t tried already?
In our case, as in others, we finally had to make major, visible cuts that badly impacted our users and staff. We closed a large branch, cut hours at all other buildings, laid off nine people, and lost several other staff positions due to resignations and retirements. We were barely buying books, just enough to cover the best-seller list and a few other highly requested items. Incredibly, all of the cuts weren’t quite enough to see positive cash flow as I scanned with trepidation each monthly financial statement.
In a difficult exercise, we bulled our way through examining the cost of everything we do. Even with the prospect of a big grant award for public computers from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we were experiencing problems stemming from our inability to keep our servers updated due to budget constraints. Our IT head, Bruce Landis, warned me repeatedly that the servers were becoming antiques. Twelve years ago, my library had been on the frontier of technology. Now, after closing a branch, we still had to run a big network serving our Main Library, five extremely far-flung rural branches, and a maintenance building. What next?
It was suggested to us that we look at library consortiums, and the light bulb went on. We knew of two consortiums that seemed feasible and open to us, and Bruce and I visited both. Both were great organizations with different offerings and philosophies. After running the numbers and carefully listing the pros and cons of each, we selected SEO. We found that our cost savings would be in the tens of thousands. SEO was on the same version of Horizon that we were, so migrating would be less difficult. Since we had to cut our staff positions to the bone, now was a good time to transfer activities to the consortium that had previously been done in-house. We would drop our OCLC cataloging and ILL services in favor of utilizing the ones included in our SEO membership. We could stop trying to figure out how to update our network servers and let them die a natural death after moving their work to SEO. We would pay SEO annually based on our number of Horizon workstations, rather than paying Horizon for software maintenance.
When we presented this plan to our Library Board, their comment, predictably, was “Why haven’t we done this already?” The short answer was, the time hadn’t been right during the various opportunities we’d previously had when choosing an online system and assessing the available technology. My library, like many others, values self-determination, including being early to extend a wide-area network to our rural branches, early use of fiber optics in our network, getting grant money for technology upgrades, and being an early adopter of floating our collections among all branches.
But times and technology are different now and joining a consortium, specifically SEO, fills my library’s needs. The biggest downside is that we must give up floating since the version of Horizon software in use does not allow it on the individual library level. The biggest upside from our user’s point of view is that they will be able to directly request materials online from other SEO libraries without a staff intermediary.