Commission raises questions about library’s cooperative agreement

As budgets are approved across the Nevada counties, commissioners have scrutinized every department under their jurisdiction. Items contained within the department budgets are carefully combed through for any that can be cut or eliminated.  Humboldt County is no exception. As a consequence, the Humboldt County Library’s budget along with its request for approval for its agreement with the Nevada Library Cooperative came under question. While the commission approved both the library’s budget and the agreement, Commissioner Jim French raised a number of questions regarding the Cooperative’s funding and the benefits of the agreement. 

“I'm a little bit concerned that the state has passed along a lot of fees to the counties and I'm just trying to make sure they're appropriate and that there's a good value to the taxpayers of Humboldt County if we sign on to these things,” French said.

Interim Library Director Jessica Anderson told the commission that the major cost for the agreement is for the integrated library system (ILS) which the library uses for inventory control, cataloging, circulation and online public access.  

The cost of the agreement depends on the types of services the library contracts for and three additional criteria: 1) the number of patrons the library has, 2) circulation numbers — the number of items checked out, 3) the number of items the library has in its inventory. Thus, Carson City, which is a member, will be charged more because its numbers of patrons, items in circulation, and inventory will be higher than Humboldt County’s library. 

According to the agreement submitted to the commission, the cost is estimated to be $23,500 in FY20; $25,500 in FY21; $28,500 in FY22 and $30,500 in FY23 per fiscal year and not to exceed an estimated $108,000 over the four-year period.

While the agreement makes it easier for libraries to track their inventory and patrons, it also provides a means for accountability. Division Administrator for the  Nevada State Library Tod Colegrove says the State Library is also a member of the Cooperative and that as “a member of the Cooperative [I ask] would it be cheaper for us to simply pull out of the Cooperative and … I think, well, we can't afford to run the catalog on our own and if we don't run the catalog then we don't have any real accountability. What do I say to the taxpayer who comes up and says … ‘you bought this particular book 3 years ago, show me [that book].’ I don't know what to tell them if I don't have those tools to be accountable.”

French asked if counties were to opt of the agreement would that also mean higher costs for the remaining members. Anderson said it would. However, the Cooperative is not anticipating any current members leaving. Colegrove said, “What I've heard is exactly the opposite … more folks want to join in" because it lowers costs for everyone. 

"And … it's more cost effective,” he added.

There have been members who have left membership in the past but Colegrove said it wasn’t because of cost savings but because of interpersonal conflict. In addition, two members changed their status because they do not have library catalogues.

The Cooperative has 22 individual members in every county in Nevada except Douglas County. 

Cooperative Director Cyndi O said Humboldt County Library has been a member of the Cooperative since at “least 1991” and has benefitted significantly from membership. It has “access to 1.1 million items across the state, receipt of computers and Internet access, professional support, training, [and other services].”

However, French asked for more clarification. 

“I'd feel better if I knew exactly how this money is being administered,” he said, adding that “I know that there's some other counties that are actually having this conversation as well. Eureka County, I know, is actually talking about closing their library because they're having shortfalls in their budget, significant shortfalls.”

The Humboldt Sun reached out to Elko-Lander-Eureka County Library System Director Kassie Antonucci who responded to French’s closure allegation in an email. 

“I have not had any conversations that would involve closing the Eureka Branch Library," she said. "I also reached out to the Eureka County Commission Clerk to see if there had been discussion that I may not have been made aware of, but they confirmed that they have no plans to close the Eureka Branch Library at this time.”

Not only is the Eureka County Library not closing its doors, but the Eureka County Commission approved the library’s fiscal year 2019-2020 budget and a request to increase that budget to add a substitute librarian. 

 The Eureka County Library contracts with Elko County for library services including the Nevada Library Cooperation services.  In fact, the library recently renewed its contract for library services through the Elko County system.