Chattanooga: Library needs overhaul

Chattanooga: Library needs overhaul

February 21st, 2009 by Cliff Hightower in Local Regional News

For the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Public Library to become a vibrant community asset, mindsets need to shift toward making that a reality, Mayor Ron Littlefield said Friday.

"There needs to be a change of attitude," he said. "And if there's not a change of attitude, then there needs to be a change of leadership."

The mayor's library task force released its final report Friday after more than a year of community meetings and study groups to find out how to improve the library. A preliminary report was released a month ago that said the county's public libraries are ugly and mismanaged and that nearly every aspect of library operations needed significant improvement.

The city paid $50,000 for two consultants - June Garcia and Susan Kent - to conduct the study.

Ms. Kent said Friday there was little difference in the preliminary report and the finalized version. She said the focus remains the same, that the library needs significant improvements, but the improvements are not impossible.

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PDF: Library report

KEY STUDY FINDINGS

* The library lacks a clear vision and strategic plan.

* The governance and structure are inefficient, with no clear lines of authority or responsibility.

* The library is underfunded and does not make good use of the money it receives.

* The library has not expanded or updated facilities to meet population growth and needs.

* Its buildings are inadequate and unattractive.

* Technology is dated and use is limited.

Source: "The Challenge of Change" report

NEXT STEPS

* Review the report in depth.

* Convene a meeting of the library task force to review the report, achieve a consensus message to be delivered to the library board.

* Develop a plan to share information with the public.

Source: "The Challenge of Change" report

"None of these issues are unsolvable," she said. "The library has to face these issues head on."

The report was very critical of some aspects of the library, such as the practice of renting new books to patrons, which the consultants called "unusual," and spending most of its book budget on nonfiction books and materials when young adult, juvenile and fiction see the most circulation use.

The consultants said they also found it "unusual" that the library spent no money on paperbacks and relied on patrons donating them.

A lot of those decisions come from leaders who see the library's job as one of research and not as participatory with the community, Ms. Kent said. She said she thinks the two can work hand in hand.

Library Director David Clapp said many of the problems in the report were common knowledge and have been building. He said he thinks the library board needs to proceed cautiously to change.

While change may seem good, it also can alienate others, he said.

"What they are talking about is changing the role of the library," he said.

Jim Kennedy, chairman of the mayor's task force, said he found two major issues within the report that struck him. One was that, even with budget constraints, management could still be doing a better job, he said. The second is that the public's perception and library management's perception are two completely different things, he said.

He said he thinks the first challenge would be to get these corrected.

"If there's not a change in leadership, then there certainly needs to be a redirect," he said.