A special MEETING OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
march 9, 2017
A meeting of the Lake County Board of County Commissioners was advertised for a special session to discuss a long-range strategic plan for Lake County libraries on Thursday, March 9, 2017, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Leesburg Public Library, 100 E. Main Street, Leesburg, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Josh Blake. Others present were: Jeff Cole, Public Resources Director, and Susan Boyajan, Deputy Clerk.
Commr. Blake welcomed everyone to the meeting and related that he was the newly-elected County Commissioner for District 5. He mentioned that this was the second library meeting and that the first was at Cooper Memorial Library in Clermont the night before, which he opined went very well. He stated that he was the County’s liaison to the Library Advisory Board and has attended some of those meetings.
Mr. Dick Waters, a consultant working on the library system’s long-range strategic plan, announced that this meeting was designed to get input from the residents who were present about a new five-year strategic plan for the Lake County library system for 2018-2023, since the current plan elapses this year. He mentioned that he has worked extensively throughout the State of Florida as well as throughout the country. He commented that residents have access to the sum total of man’s knowledge by utilizing the computers available in the public libraries which has databases that may be too expensive or may not be able to be accessed on an individual’s home computer, and the librarians are much more proficient in searching for information on a computer than most of the general population. He recommended that the first place a person should go to look for information or do research was the local public library. He noted that Lake County has a total of 15 libraries, six County libraries and nine municipal libraries, and he and Mr. Sam Morrison, another consultant, will visit each one in the next two weeks before having a meeting with Mr. Jeff Cole, Public Resources Director, and others to discuss their findings and relay a draft report. He explained that there will be another meeting scheduled to get more feedback and responses from residents to the consultants’ recommendations in order to make sure the plan will be right for Lake County. He remarked that they have a wealth of good ideas already gathered from the two days that he and Mr. Morrison have been here. He opined that the computer has made a big change in libraries, but the printed book is not going to disappear, with circulation actually increasing. He also pointed out that although many predicted that libraries would get smaller due to technology, library buildings have actually increased in size due to the size of the work stations and the fact that technology has resulted in more people using the libraries. He added that technology has also made staff more productive and efficient and has given the public greater access to information. He mentioned that only 4 percent of Americans exclusively read e-books, although he believed that e-books were important and that every library needed to have them accessible by the public. He asked those in attendance what they wanted to see in their Lake County library system in general and specifically in Leesburg.
One resident who stated that she was on the advisory board for her local library and an active user of the library, asked where they were in the process and whether market studies and surveys have already been done by the consultants.
Mr. Waters responded that they were only two days into the process and that there was an online survey that residents could access that has been ongoing for several days, with the results from that survey being turned over to them for analysis. He added that he has gotten some demographic data from a company that they work with such as age, educational levels, occupation, and income for every library based on a one-mile, three-mile, and five-mile radius around each library. He noted that they have also requested and received quite a bit of background data from things such as the annual reports the libraries send to the state and salary schedules. He elaborated that they would also provide cost estimates for the recommendations projected out over the five-year period.
Mr. Cole added that the consultants have also had meetings with the library directors.
Mr. Waters summarized that they were trying to get as much input from as many people as they could, including telephone and email contact with people identified as key stakeholders.
A person who identified herself as a Leesburg City Commissioner commented that the Leesburg Library is extremely valuable and important to the residents of Leesburg, and a variety of different types of individuals use the library. She stated that she would like to see expansion of programs and hours in the library, although money is always an issue, and one important use of the library is education to help with their economic development.
A resident of Mount Dora commented that she was astounded that the libraries in Lake County offer programs that can hold their own against the best county library systems in any state; however, she wanted the libraries to reach out to people who were not using the library or those who could not find transportation to get to there.
Mr. Waters responded that the marketing of the library is fair, and the hours are an impediment to increased use of the library. He pointed out that libraries which are open on Sunday find that day to be the busiest time of the week on a per-hour basis, and they would be looking at that very closely. He suggested that the libraries close for one weekday in order to be open on Sunday, which he opined would attract more users. He also mentioned that 52 percent of the library budget this year was for personnel costs, which is at least 15 percent less than most libraries spend.
The Leesburg City Commissioner replied that the reason they were able to do that was because of their dedicated staff. She also asked Mr. Waters to consider the pedestrian traffic.
Another resident commented that a lot of people depend on the bus system to get to the library, and those residents would not be able to take advantage of Sunday hours, since the buses do not run on Saturday or Sunday.
Commr. Blake pointed out that although the County runs the transit system, the buses in Lake County are almost completely federally funded, and he did not know what the requirements were for that funding; however, he stated that he would look into that.
The resident added that the library was amazing and offered many more programs than most other areas, such as education and computer certifications to help residents improve their job opportunities. She added that the people who need those services the most were the lower income people who have to work in the daytime and had a hard time getting to the libraries during the hours that they were open.
Another individual suggested that they try to reach out to the retired population in order to find volunteers who would be able to bring people to the library.
Mr. Waters related that the population of Lake County would be about 350,000 by 2021, with about 25 percent of those people expected to be over age 65.
A resident suggested that they have part of the strategic plan, mission statement, and follow through focus on the role of the library in forming a well-prepared citizenry.
Mr. Waters agreed that that was exactly what the libraries were for.
Another person in attendance commented that she has noticed a shift during the economic downturn of people coming to the library for the computers rather than the books in order to look for job resources, especially in the rural communities.
Mr. Waters responded that they were finding that the use of tethered library desktop computers is decreasing, but the use of the technology being accessed by other devices is increasing. He opined that he believed that trend will continue, and the library technology has to be accessible by a variety of devices, such as an iPad, laptop computer, Kindle, and smartphone. He commented that residents who work in the Orlando area and commute great distances cannot make it into the library during normal hours of operation after they get home during the week, which is one reason why the usage of the library as a whole has not escalated in keeping with the growth of the population. He summarized that the hours of operation are a very important factor to be able to reach the total population.
A resident of Umatilla who commented that she loved the library noted that children are frequent users and visitors of the libraries. She added that although there were pockets of the county that were very wealthy such as in the Villages, there were also many areas in the county where families do not have a lot of money and children do not have their own computers. She also opined that the personality of each library is different than the others in the county, and she expressed concern about whether all sectors of the population, including those in the outlying areas, would be considered in the survey and when deciding the hours of library operation.
Mr. Waters suggested that kiosks which dispense books, DVDs, and CDs with a library card could be put in grocery stores and locations throughout the county to reach a population that had difficulty getting to the libraries during normal hours of operation. He opined that those kiosks would be secure, since they did not contain any money, and he specified that ten kiosks spread throughout the county would cost about $300,000. He also suggested that they could have lockers with a combination lock in some of the libraries where it could be accessible at all hours and where items could be placed for a resident who has called ahead, reserved those items, and received the combination to the lock. He pointed out that the library system does not currently have enough staff to do a full-blown outreach program, which would require staff to go to every school at least twice a year to talk to the students about what the library offers throughout the year, as well as to partner with social service agencies, and he added that some libraries make their meeting room available one day a week to various service providers who set up tables to relay information about the various social services. He opined that he believed the most important thing a library should do exceptionally well is to have the best program for children possible, because education is how to solve the economic problems they have throughout the country. He also commented that children should have access to both their own books and library books, and he stated that reading aloud to children consistently until at least first grade will result in those children developing a vocabulary of 30,000 to 40,000 words as opposed to 3,000 to 4,000 words for a child who is not read to, noting that that gap could never be closed.
A resident opined that they could not implement any of the ideas they come up with if there was no money to implement them, so there are always decisions to be made related to scarce resources. She commented that people coming to the library building, being around others, and attending the special events offered by the libraries developed a sense of community.
Mr. Waters commented that the library budget is about $30 per capita for all 15 libraries, which is a little less than the national average, and he opined that people generally consider libraries important enough to vote for funding them, even if it results in a tax increase, since it is a quality of life issue. He pointed out that a well-educated population and workforce and quality libraries are important factors that companies consider when locating their businesses to an area. He relayed the results of a study done by the University of Texas that showed the return on investment in economic development was $4.46 for every dollar of public money spent on libraries and education, and he mentioned that another study showed that the return on investment in Florida was over $8 for every dollar spent.
A resident requested that a more countywide focus on publicizing what the libraries do be added to the list of things that are considered.
Mr. Waters opined that a good Facebook page which directed people to the library’s website would be the least expensive and effective way to reach the greatest number of people, since the millennials’ number one source of information was Facebook.
A resident suggested an old-fashioned method of putting fliers in the lobby of an assisted living facility or a clubhouse of a gated community, as well as in places in the community that people normally go to, such as churches and stores, in order to bring new people into the library.
Mr. Waters recommended that they choose a couple of places as a trial run to do that for about six months to see how it works before spending a lot of money for printing and distribution that would not bear results, and the libraries could take an inventory of people attending every program to ask how they learned about that program. He summarized that data collection and research were very important, and he was a firm believer in experimentation before doing something on a system-wide basis that might not work; for example, he would invest in one or two kiosks in key areas before implementing that idea countywide. He explained that the role of the friends of the library group is to advocate for the library as well as raise some money to help the library do something they would not ordinarily have the money to do.
Another individual stated that there were ways the libraries could connect with the public school system to reach the groups that could benefit from some of the library programs by maximizing what already exists and making sure they are properly utilizing their resources. She suggested that parents who sign up for the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program could be informed about the library services available at that time to help lower-income students with educational challenges and to bring up the skill levels of those students.
Mr. Waters responded that public libraries make extensive use of partnerships, with schools being one possible partner depending on the willingness of the principal of the local school to work with the libraries. He recommended that they start with elementary schools and noted that there needed to be volunteers working with this program. He elaborated that retirees such as those living in the Villages have more discretionary time, and he opined that most retirees like to be active and to make a contribution to the community.
A resident commented that this might be a good time to bring this kind of program to the attention of the new Superintendent of Schools who was expected to take office in March.
Mr. Waters brought everyone’s attention to the handout that was provided to them, which was a priority-setting exercise listing eleven services. He requested that the participants list their priorities for either the Leesburg Library or the library system as a whole by numbering five services they think are the most important starting with a “1” for the most important to a “5.” He then asked them to mark an “X” next to two of the six items that are left to delineate that they do not believe the library should spend any time or money trying to deliver those two services. He mentioned that they are asking every group they meet to do this, and this would give them a good indication of the priorities of the community. He concluded that those who participated will be contacted by the library when the consultants come back to present the draft report and a PowerPoint presentation. He thanked everyone for their time and assistance.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 7:35 p.m.
timothy i. sullivan, chairman
NEIL KELLY, CLERK