A History-Making Partnership
LS&S Library Director: Joan Tyler
RIVERSIDE COUNTY LIBRARY SYSTEM
Historic Partnership 25 Years Strong
In 1997, Riverside County, California became the first community in the nation to operate a public library system in partnership with a private company. This forward-thinking approach resulted in exponentially improved services for residents. From a vast and varied collection of books and materials, to cutting edge technology, to inspirational educational programs and state-of-the-art outreach, the Riverside County Library System (RCLS) offers valuable resources and excellent patron service.
In the mid-1990s, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors needed a new way to operate the library system. Statewide budget cuts meant the status quo was unsustainable. At the same time, Supervisors knew high- quality libraries were crucial for a growing County. They made the unconventional decision to solicit proposals for library operation. Library Systems & Services (LS&S) was the clear choice. Experienced LS&S library administrators worked with Riverside community leaders to plan a strong and sustainable future with community vitality and long-term goals in mind. By centralizing human resources, marketing, finance and other back-office functions including operating the Integrated Library System and website, LS&S sustained and grew Riverside County’s libraries, all within budget.
Suzanne Holland, Director of Economic Development in Riverside County, has been responsible for RCLS since 2011. “I am not a librarian,” she says. “I’m an administrator, and I have been administering and managing contracts my entire career. I partner with LS&S, a private company, because they’re the library experts. I’m not interested in getting into library operations. I’m interested in making sure that the library runs smoothly and is efficient and that there is ease in providing services. It’s all about the end result – excellent service for our community members.”
This historic collaboration fueled exponential growth for the next 25 years.
New Library Locations
Since partnering with LS&S in 1997, RCLS has expanded to include 12 new library branches.
By leveraging the power of a public-private partnership, Riverside County funded, planned and built three new library buildings concurrently. Desert Hot Springs, French Valley and Menifee opened during Summer 2021 and added over 50,000 total square feet of flexible library space.
The Canyon Lake, Glen Avon and Woodcrest branches were also renovated and relocated during 2020-2021 to offer more modern space, amenities and experiences. The new and renovated branches are situated in convenient locations closer to residential areas.
The Louis Robidoux, Highgrove, Mecca and Idyllwild branches also relocated to new sites while La Quinta, Grace Mellman, Home Gardens and Cathedral City were expanded or remodeled under LS&S operation. “Our new libraries provide space for the community to learn, create and have fun,” Holland says. “They are wonderful resources.”
Improvements did not stop with new library space. In 2019, the La Quinta branch added a state-of-the-art Creation Station Makerspace with laser cutting, a tool shop, sewing equipment, 3D printers and more. This valued community asset is a hive of activity for residents of all ages.
County Librarian Barbara Howison has been part of RCLS growth and innovation since the beginning. She started working for the Library in 1973 and has been an integral part of the LS&S partnership for decades, “Riverside County is huge – 7,000 square miles,” Howison says. “Opening these new branches and extending service to areas that have long needed them has greatly benefited many communities across the County.”
Expanded Community Outreach and Mobile Services
While mobile service and outreach continues to be an important service, delivery has changed. Large bus- sized bookmobiles were replaced with nimbler, grant- funded Library Connect vans that provide on-the-go programming and services at stops around Riverside County, including remote and underserved areas. The vans offer educational enrichment opportunities with a focus on literacy-skill-building programs and include Wi-Fi, laptops and a small collection of books for all ages.
Educational programming includes STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) activities for children, engaging storytimes for caregivers and children, English conversation clubs, one-on-one tutoring, work readiness support and more.
While service growth and expansion continue to evolve, the LS&S commitment to uncompromising service has never wavered. The results of the partnership between LS&S and RCLS speak for themselves.
|Registered Users as of June 30||350,818||406,021||16%|
|Print Materials Expenditures||$318,716||$985,349||209%|
|Electronic Materials Expenditures||$85,000||$455,089||435%|
|Total Persons Employed||176||340||93%|
|Total Books Held (Physical & Electronic)||758,870||1,087,716||43%|
|Hours Open, All Outlets||34,867||69,370||99%|
|Print Books for Children||247,327||483,618||96%|
|Total # of Programs||605||10,346||1610%|
|# of Adult Programs||605||3,802||409%|
|Total Program Attendance||28,474||180,372||533%|
|Adult Program Attendance||8,859||40,497||360%|
|Children’s Program Attendance||19,615||125,751||540%|
*COVID-19 pandemic library closures impacted 2020-2021 statistics
RCLS continues to innovate and engage residents with materials, programs, events and services. “I rely heavily on LS&S to provide me with the new trends, best practices and ideas,” Holland says. “LS&S is my librarian. They are in touch with new innovation and new opportunities.”
Library Staff: The Faces of RCLS
Helpful, caring staff are the heart of excellent libraries. RCLS staff bring the library to life and connect patrons to services. In 1997, LS&S worked closely with County leadership to retain all existing staff members.
These employees immediately became a part of the LS&S team and continued to receive the same pay, vacation time and accrual rates they enjoyed as government employees. “When the County partnered with LS&S, almost every employee joined the LS&S team,” Howison says. “And 25 years later, 17 are still active participants. They are all great employees.”
Staff kept existing retirement investments, and many became eligible for 401k funds for the first time in their careers. LS&S also provided development opportunities including staff mental health first aid training via the California State Library, patron privacy, library ethics and intellectual freedom training as well as merit-based raises that would never have been possible prior to partnership. And because almost all staff chose to stay on board, patrons were greeted by a familiar face when they visited the library.
While many new members have joined the RCLS team during the past 25 years, the warm welcome and commitment to excellent patron service continues today. “We have some of the most engaged library staff that we’ve ever had, and we’ve had some amazing staff over the years,” Holland says. “It’s all about tailoring services and programming to the interests of the communities. RCLS staff dedication is easy to see.”
Throughout the long partnership, the collection of books and materials evolved as patrons’ needs and desires changed. The collection budget was adapted to include a wide selection of eBooks, eAudiobooks and databases and streaming services for movies and music. Opportunities for eLearning and online instruction were also added.
“I’m very proud of LS&S’s many innovations and efforts, not only in expanding STEAM programming and our makerspace, but in language reading, ESL and even financial and computer literacy,” Howison says. “There is an emphasis on introducing the best new services and programs that were not in the forefront prior to LS&S.”
LS&S continuously upgrades technology and looks for new ways to improve patron-user experience. The RCLS website has been an increasingly important way for patrons to use the library, with nearly 2 million site visits per year and a complete redesign in 2021. This mobile- friendly site is easy to use and offers chat services where patrons can get help at the point of need.
Laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots became available for home checkout. Updated branch computers and faster internet connections combined with mobile virtual reality equipment and connected meeting space improved access and introduced patrons to technology they might not otherwise have an opportunity to use.
As new technologies emerge, LS&S deploys them to improve patron experience. In 2010, an RFID self-service system was installed for materials checkout. By 2015, Wi-Fi access was available at every library, as were lendable e-readers, eBooks, 3D printers and training.
In 2020, RCLS implemented the LibraryIQ Platform for real-time understanding of how the collection circulates, where to most impactfully spend budget and how to select materials and identify programs that closely tie to community preferences at each branch.
Holland relies on LS&S librarians to spark improvement. “When we pivoted to LS&S, the creativity resulted in innovation off the charts and it became clear they really did have the public’s best interest at heart.” Communication has been key to innovation and overall partnership success. “The communication with LS&S has been stellar. If there’s an idea that comes from the ground up, it’s brought to our attention and we look into how we can execute. And it goes both ways. We all want the same thing – to provide excellent library services to the communities we serve.”
Riverside County continues to grow – and grow quickly. “We are one of the ten fastest-growing counties in the United States,” Holland says. “And with new residents comes the need for more County services and the budget to support them.
“Contracting with LS&S means a predictable library budget with the ability to plan for growth and flexibility to adjust as needed,” she says. “Success is about growth and stability. In the years since LS&S has been the County of Riverside’s contractor, we’ve never had to close down a library. We’ve never reduced hours, even in the Great Recession. Typically the library budget tends to be the one that’s hit the hardest, but we’ve always kept a steady hand because of our partnership with LS&S. I don’t know of any other county system in California that has grown as much as we have. We have 36 branches and just built three brand new facilities.”
From Faltering to Award-Winning
Instead of struggling with an impossible budget, RCLS libraries offer more locations, resources and technology than ever before.
RCLS success brought recognition. The United States Green Building Council named the Woodcrest branch as the first County-owned environmentally friendly building. In 2005, RCLS was awarded the prestigious John Cotton Dana Award by the American Library Association for “Leer Es Triunfar, Reading is Succeeding.” In 2008, RCLS received the Raul and Estela Mora Award for leading the way in a statewide celebration of Dia de los Niños/Dia de los Libros. The La Quinta branch received the 2019-2020 California Library Association (CLA) PRExcellence award for “The Night the Library Came Alive” hybrid program.
Since the beginning of the partnership, RCLS has received more than $7 million in grants, including the 2013-2014 Ready to Work and the 2014-2015 Cultural Connections @ Your Library grants, both from the California State Library.
Holland trusts the library experts operating RCLS. “As an administrator, you can be as involved and as in control as you feel you need to be. But I can tell you that if you let go of those reins and let the experts do their job, the end result is phenomenal. I administer the contract with LS&S and the end result is always to benefit the public; it’s always an amazing result.”
A quarter century of success could not have been possible without the passion, trust and vision of the Riverside County/LS&S partnership. Through good times and bad, recessions and a pandemic, RCLS continues to innovate and expand, making life better for the people it serves.
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