Staffing at Chicago’s 80 public libraries is better than it was, but it’s still not aligned with community needs, Inspector General Joe Ferguson concluded Wednesday, recommending a “system-wide workload analysis.”
Deficiencies in the Chicago Public Library’s staffing plan may contribute to “inefficient use of….human resources” with some staffers “performing tasks that fell outside their job descriptions and for which they were over-qualified,” Ferguson wrote.
“Clerks reported regularly engaging in sorting and shelving, tasks normally done by pages….A clerk at a library serving a largely Hispanic neighborhood [said] her status as the only bi-lingual staff member made it a practical necessity for her to perform tasks outside her job description on a regular basis,” the audit states.
“One branch manager told us that many positions perform many roles, which in some cases, results in personnel spending time on activities that could be done more cost effectively by employees holding other titles.”
In his first city budget, Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed reducing library hours and imposing draconian job cuts that would have impacted 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 who stood to lose their jobs.
“Three percent of the budget. Fifty percent of the cuts. It makes no sense. It’s ridiculous,” Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) said then.
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 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 have been restored, staffing remains “below 2011 levels,” Ferguson said.
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, new Commissioner Brian Bannon determined that the uniform approach was “not sustainable” and developed a plan to allocate staff on the basis of a series of factors. They include square footage, circulation volume, reference desks, number of visitors and computer usage.
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 that the plan was “not sufficient to align library branch staffing with community needs.”
The inspector general recommended a system-wide workload analysis that involves “stakeholders” in the redesign.
Bannon agreed with some of the recommendations. But he disagreed with the idea of disseminating the plan to all library employees. Nor did he agree to involve the Library Board and community members in redesigning the plan, Ferguson wrote.
“The Chicago Public Library is an important public institution that provides enormous benefit to our residents,” Ferguson wrote.
“We strongly encourage CPL to re-evaluate its rejection of soliciting insight and perspective from the very public it exists to serve and the staff who serve them. A new approach to staffing with consideration of those who are at the frontlines of that service and industry best practices is essential to support the needs of the city.”