Chicago Public Library staffing slammed again by inspector general

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Staffing at Chicago’s 80 public libraries is still not aligned with community needs, Inspector General Joe Ferguson says in a follow-up audit. | Sun-Times file photo

Staffing at Chicago’s 80 public libraries is still not aligned with community needs one year after Inspector General Joe Ferguson recommended a “systemwide workload analysis” to better serve library patrons.

In a follow-up audit released Tuesday, Ferguson essentially accused Library Commissioner Brian Bannon of dragging his feet in a way that has hurt library services that retiring Mayor Rahm Emanuel points to with pride.

Library officials were specifically faulted for ignoring Ferguson’s recommendation to study the amount of time staff spends on specific activities.

The Chicago Public Library has so far declined to “redesign the staffing plan with input from library board members, employees and area residents,” the audit stated.

Nor has the Chicago Public Library “reviewed the categorization of libraries within the staffing plan or developed a formal process for evaluating the plan’s effectiveness.”

It expects to start those processes in the third quarter of this year and “create a policy to codify how and when the staffing plan should be applied, evaluated and updated” in the fourth quarter, the follow-up audit states.

“By not supporting its staff and not engaging with its communities, CPL is failing in its mission to support the people of Chicago. I hope a turn of administration brings a fresh re-examination of the issues,” Ferguson said in a news release that accompanied his follow-up audit.

Ferguson said Chicagoans should be “troubled” by the library system’s response to last year’s critique because it left “diligent and well-intentioned managers” of the library system without the “support, guidance, and decisiveness needed” to serve library patrons.

That left Ferguson to conclude that the response was the product of an “upper management that was either unengaged or simply absent.”

“The substantive and timely cooperation needed for full success was lacking. Moreover, the official response in this follow up, as was the case in the original audit, manifests a significant dissonance between a public institution and the very public CPL exists to serve,” Ferguson wrote.

Library spokesman Patrick Molloy said the city is “committed to ensuring each of our branches meet the needs of the surrounding community.”

“To help ensure staffing is appropriately distributed among our branches, we have identified an internal CPL librarian to evaluate and manage current staffing and ensure that the needs of residents are being met,” Molloy wrote in an email.

Molloy noted that six new branch libraries have opened in recent months and each has “received additional staff based on the addition of new programmatic spaces, such as teen YOUmedia digital labs and early learning play spaces.

In his first city budget, Emanuel proposed reducing library hours and imposing draconian job cuts that would have affected library services at all hours.

The plan to reduce corporate fund support for libraries by $10 million was modified only after aldermen from across the city took a stand during City Council budget hearings to the applause of library employees faced with losing their jobs.

Unwilling to preside over the dismantling of a library system she helped to build, then-Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey resigned.

Even after the compromise, the library system was forced to absorb a 26 percent reduction that included the elimination of 146 library pages responsible for sorting and shelving books and other materials and performing other routine clerical tasks.

Although some of those positions were restored, Ferguson concluded last year that staffing remained “below 2011 levels.”

Prior to 2012, each branch was staffed with six full-time positions — three librarians and three clerks — regardless of branch size, location or usage volume.

After Dempsey’s departure, Bannon determined that the uniform approach was “not sustainable” and developed a plan to allocate staff based on factors such as square footage, circulation volume, reference desks, number of visitors and computer usage.

Last year, Ferguson set out to determine whether that staffing plan was working and whether it conformed to American Library Association and Government Accounting Office standards.

He found that, although the staffing plan was an improvement, “deficiencies in design and implementation” meant the plan was “not sufficient to align library branch staffing with community needs.”

That’s why Ferguson recommended a systemwide workload analysis that involved “stakeholders” in the redesign.

The follow-up audit and its stinging critique of the Bannon regime is almost certain to grab the attention of Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot.

Lightfoot’s wife, Amy Eshleman, served as an assistant library commissioner under Dempsey. Eshleman is credited with helping to develop YOUmedia, a digital center tailor-made for teenagers.

In 2005, Dempsey and Lightfoot worked together to clean up the Department of Procurement Services after the Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals that cast a giant cloud over former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration.

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