When Goleta became a city in 2002, it assumed responsibility for the provision of the Goleta area library services from Santa Barbara County. Just as the city contracts with the county for police services and animal control, the city opted to contract with the City of Santa Barbara to provide its library services. This arrangement was perceived as the most efficient and effective way for Goleta’s library to provide services not just to Goleta but also to residents in surrounding areas such as Gaviota, Isla Vista, and unincorporated Goleta, just as the county had done.
So, why then did the Goleta City Council vote for Goleta’s library to be separated from the City of Santa Barbara and administered directly by Goleta? It was not an act of mutiny or just an expression of pique. The decision was the answer to a management question: How could Goleta best serve the residents of the region? By relying on the central administration through the City of Santa Barbara? Or by using a more decentralized system allowing for more local control, administered directly by the City of Goleta?
To start with, one of the original expectations for contracting the administration of South Coast libraries to Santa Barbara City’s library was that there would be an economics of scale; that is, Santa Barbara City library’s centralized administration could offer cost savings over what the costs would have been for the individual libraries.
The most obvious possible source of such efficiency would be in the sharing of books. However, when Goleta takes on the administration of the Goleta library, efficiencies in the sharing of books will remain in place. The library system across the county relies on an inter-library system, called the Black Gold Cooperative, as a way of sharing books. Goleta will be a member of Black Gold when independent, just as it is now.
In fact, recent analysis shows that Goleta’s library can achieve greater potential cost savings by taking on its own administrative management, rather than relying on the centralized administration from Santa Barbara. This parallels Goleta’s experience when it assumed the provision of custodial services for the Goleta library and produced cost savings of 30 percent over what S.B.’s library was paying.
Goleta recently studied how much it would cost if it took on the administration of its library. In an apples-to-apples comparison, using the City of Goleta to provide the same IT [information technology], human resources, finance, and other administrative services saves almost $50,000 annually, after the first-year start-up costs.
This assessment relies on the estimates that the City of Santa Barbara provides for administrative expenses and overhead charges. It reflects the fact that Santa Barbara authorized it library to increase the fee it charges the local branch libraries for administration. The 9 percent charge for administrating Goleta’s library budget in 2016-17 was increased to 13.5 percent for 2017-2018 budget year, and will likely be doubled to 18 percent for the 2018-2019 budget year. This means that for every $100 in Goleta’s library expenditures budget, 18 percent would go to S.B.’s city library for administration.
Moreover, the projected savings could be even greater several years from now as the City of Santa Barbara has suggested that its management fee could increase to 22 percent and more. Additionally, these overhead charges do not account for additional administrative expenses of “allocated costs,” like worker’s comp and other salary benefits that the city charges as well. These allocated costs account for about 22 percent of all library expenditures.
Another benefit from a decentralized system is that it offers benefits of lower information costs by avoiding a lengthy management chain. With Goleta managing its own administration, communication and responsiveness can improve. For example, the Friends of Goleta Valley Library volunteers did not feel that they had a voice in running the library. A spokesperson for the Friends observed that, “Everything the library does is dictated by the S.B. Library management from afar. There is no interest there in helping the Goleta library raise funds. I can’t get a list of projects where I could ask companies for sponsorship. Even reupholstering chairs, or re-carpeting the library, which badly needs it, must go through S.B. management.” The decision on how to allocate new funds raised by the Friends was the decision of the Central Library. The result was to undermine fund-raising efforts for the Goleta library, as the Friends and donors had been told that any funds raised were “needed elsewhere.”
Perhaps the deciding reason for Goleta choosing to take on the administration of its library is to allow the public to hold its elected officials accountable for decisions made on the library. When responsibility was divided, Goleta did not have primary authority over the library. Goleta voters had no recourse for Santa Barbara Library’s administrative decisions. With this act of independence, we now have unambiguous authority over the operations of the library, and voters can hold us accountable for the choices that are made.
This is not to say that the task ahead is easy. We will have committed to providing greater resources to the library, such as potentially adding library personnel, from 21 to 26 employees. Other service enhancement we are pursuing include a bookmobile to serve the residents of Isla Vista, Old Town Goleta, and other identified locations; retaining the children’s librarian; and preserving the hours that Goleta’s library is open. Cost savings from taking on our library’s administration will help fund some of these library service improvements.
Nevertheless, there remains a challenge for the city to acquire greater revenues in order to achieve our goals. When we include all resources, direct and in-kind, contributed by the city, Goleta contributes almost $27 per capita. This is less than the average amount spent by other cities for library services. Now that the City of Goleta is assuming administrative control over its library, we have an opportunity to secure other funding sources so we can provide the key library services people in our service area have the right to expect.
Stuart Kasdin is mayor pro tempore of the Goleta City Council. This piece represents his opinions and not those of other councilmembers or the city.