BH Library: Where Execution Lags Ambition

Six months ago the city celebrated the recent renovations to the Beverly Hills city library with a fete on February 10th. Coming in for praise was the new children’s library section, a gleaming new space for learning and exploration. Adult patrons would benefit from new self-checkout stations while librarians sat comfortable at a new desk where circulation had stood. Like radio frequency-tagging for materials and the new materials return chute, these are significant steps forward.  The trouble is that the job is still not completed.

Long after the city celebrated these library improvements, our modern self-checkout station and the new librarians’ desk still aren’t open for business. They sit forlorn and adorned with signs simply advising, ‘Coming soon.’

Library stations coming soonThose signs have preached that hopeful message for six months without any explanation about why these important pieces of the renovation remain stillborn. Ask a librarian and you’ll get a shrug of the shoulders. Or perhaps they’ll make a vague reference to software glitches. That’s no way to communicate with the public about a large project that continues to generate some controversy.

It’s also no way to show stakeholders and policymakers that additional investment in the library is warranted. In Council chambers recently, as management presented their case for capital investment, stakeholders raised questions about the project budget in light of the condition of rest of the library. (The building has undergone few nips and tucks since it was constructed in the 1980s.) And councilmembers expressed their misgivings about making capital investments too. Given the badly-lagging status of this new checkout area, we think that they’re right to be skeptical about the ability of our library to manage it without close oversight.

Now, we count ourselves as a champion of the library. We believe in its mission, support its funding and part company with critics of the new, modern aesthetic. We will continue to advocate for improvements in decor, too, but we want to see changes that are more than skin deep. It was a months-long effort to get the library to make institute privacy privacy protections for in-library catalog users. And we’re continually discovering missing materials. Before RFID came along, materials seemed to simply walk out the door without even a notation to the catalog. Today the once-robust music collection practically dies on the vine.

Where is the sense of management urgency? The children’s library project manager was praised in Council chambers some months ago for a job well done, but there was no mention of the circulation desk snafu. And in chambers just recently, our library manager delivered an update to Council but didn’t mention the idle self-checkout table and unmanned customer service desk. No Council member asked.

It’s no wonder our library badly lags the facilities and features of other systems. Santa Monica is a template for good management. LA County’s West Hollywood branch is a model of facility design. Glendale-Burbank shows a particular sensitivity to music; its collection is unparalleled. In which area does the Beverly Hills Public Library excel?