FRESNO COUNTY – A report from the county’s grand jury has found that while the Fresno County Public Library isn’t lacking in its available resources, it does appear to be lacking in consumer presence.
According to a grand jury report, the Fresno County Public Library (FCPL) is being underutilized by patrons, despite the fact that since 1998, Measure B funding has raised over $353 million in sales taxes for the 35 libraries that comprise Fresno County Public Library and for the Coalinga-Huron Library District.
According to page 13 of the report, the problem is FCPL is simply “not getting the word out to the public sufficiently to maximize the number of registered users.”
The grand jury examined library statistics from Contra Costa County, Orange County, Riverside County, Sacramento, San Bernardino County, San Diego County and San Jose. It looked at a number of key categories, including service area population, registered users, number of branches, program attendance and website visits. The grand jury report found that FCPL ranked significantly below similar county library systems in the majority of the categories.
The report relied on data from the California Department of the State Library System Statistics Database. This database provides statistics on borrowers, circulation, programs, staffing and other categories. The report compared FCPL with the Contra Costa County Library system because the two libraries provide services to similar populations – FCPL serves a population of 1,002,529; Contra Costa serves a population of 1,043,724.
According to the library statistics database, for the fiscal year 2021-2022, Contra Costa County’s library system had 337,554 registered users. For the same year, FCPL had 185,681 users. The report describes this difference as the “most glaring disparity” in the categories it examined.
But Susan Refro, FCPL marketing and community relations officer, disagrees. Renfro says Fresno County residents are availing themselves with the resources of FCPL.
“We have online databases, such as the Rosetta Stone, that are being used,” Renfro said. “We have DMV study guides, summer programs and other online resources.” Renfro said FCPL is preparing a formal answer to the grand jury report but has not said when its report will be available.
The report, which was published on May 10, gives high marks to FCPL as a whole. It found that the Citizens Review Panel (CRP), which is responsible for overseeing how Measure B funds are being utilized, consistently discharges its duties fairly, showing no preference for any district or branch.
The report did not fault the Friends of the Library (FOL) program, noting that “It is, at its heart, an advocacy group for public awareness and fundraising.” FOL volunteers play an active role in book donations, book sales and organizing public events.
FCPL is not lacking in resources. As of June 2020, the library collection included 672,000 printed materials, 261,000 children’s books, 57,000 young adult books, 60,000 e-books, 99,000 physical videos, 700 downloadable videos, 77,000 physical audio materials and 25,000 downloadable audio materials.
The grand jury report does not give high marks to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors (BOS). The BOS is charged with ensuring the CRP has the resources and information to conduct their oversight duties. Under the “Findings” category, the report notes: “The Board of Supervisors has not sufficiently outlined its expectations of the Citizens Review Panel by providing them with a detailed outline of their oversight responsibilities.”
The report notes there are four (actually three) vacancies on the CRP panel, which makes it difficult to achieve a quorum at CRP meetings. The report found that FCPL lacks a current Long Term Facilities Plan as required under Measure B; and, of course, the number of registered users falls short of the average for “comparably sized and budgeted library systems in the state.”
So what is to be done? The report recommends the BOS develop a list of expectations for the CRP with respect to Measure B expenditures. And the BOS must ensure there are no vacancies on the CRP.
The report makes several recommendations that FCPL should implement by the end of the year. These include hiring an outside professional media/advertising consultant to develop an advertising and awareness campaign to make Fresno County citizens aware of FCPL’s “vast array of services.” The report recommends FCPL put this in place by September 30.
The report also recommends FCPL should consider hiring a professional management firm to develop a long-term plan for maximizing the handling of public funds, taking its cue from similar-sized libraries such as Contra Costa County. The report recommends this should be in place by December 31.