As a former employee of the Library System of Lancaster County, I have been following with interest and dismay the recent turmoil involving the public libraries of Lancaster County, county officials, and the System. I’m not here to take a side. There are no bad guys. There are only good people trying to do the right thing. The problem is that no one can agree on what that “right thing” is.
When I worked at the System, I did not believe it was appropriate to write about the turmoil (which has been ongoing in one form or another for decades) using inside information. Now that I no longer work there, I do not believe it is appropriate to write without having inside information. I don’t know all the facts. I only know what I read in the newspaper and blogs. If you want to know more, go to LancasterOnline and search “public libraries” to find articles of interest.
I do know that having worked as a consultant these past three months for a district in which there is one federated system (individual libraries each with their own boards along with a central office that provides support services to all the libraries, also with its own board), one consolidated system (one board, one administrative office, and library “branches”), and several independent libraries (individual libraries, individual boards, no central administrative office) there is no perfect model. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and I don’t think that the model affects the function as much as some people think. I think the function (or dysfunction) depends on a lot of factors. Seeing three separate models in action has given me perspective but has certainly not made me an expert nor given me license to weigh in on the Lancaster County situation. I would not attempt to offer advice on how things can be changed. Except for one thing-
No matter what happens–whether the System stays as it is now or morphs into something else or whether it goes away–please take care of one thing. One very simple thing–low-hanging fruit as we like to say–Change the name. Now.
It makes no sense to call The Library System of Lancaster County by that name. Nobody–and I mean nobody–except Lancaster County library insiders understands that The Library System of Lancaster County is one, independent organization, one building, one office with 20ish employees. Any reasonable person, upon reading the name, The Library System of Lancaster County, would think the writer is referring to the system of public libraries in Lancaster County–all of them. It is confusing and why add confusion to an already muddled situation? I have no idea why it was named that in the first place.
The name is the least of its problems, you say? It’s true that it’s just a name, but it’s a name that does not even describe the organization’s purpose. The System provides support services to the public libraries in the county. Based on the definition of “system” as “a group of related parts that move or work together,” using the name The Library System of Lancaster County would make sense if it referred to the entire group of Lancaster County libraries. But it doesn’t. So it doesn’t make sense. No sense at all. Not one shred.
And maybe it’s not such a little thing. There should be no identity confusion at a time when libraries need support. People are hesitant to support structures they don’t understand or that seem unnecessarily complex. Changing the name is a simple way to clarify the identity of an organization that is getting a lot of press and to differentiate that organization from the public libraries that directly serve the community. All the pieces are important. But they are not all the same.
LSLC is referred to as “The System” in articles, and that seems to me to have a negative connotation. It sounds ominous. “The libraries vs. The System” sounds a lot like the little guy fighting the Man, the establishment, and that isn’t really true. In this case, the “Man” is more than an administrative bureaucracy. It is a group of talented, dedicated, committed people providing essential support services to the libraries–libraries that do brilliant work in their communities.
Why worry about changing the name if the future of the System is in question? There are good reasons. If the System remains in place and continues to support the libraries, then it should have a name that reflects its function. If the System goes away, then please act now to prevent headlines like, “The Library System of Lancaster County closes its doors” that will cause many to believe that all of the public libraries in Lancaster County are closing!
Call it Public Library Support Services Center (PLSSC). Call it Lancaster County Public Library Support Services (LCPLSS). Call it System Headquarters. Call it Henry James Beauregard, V! Call it whatever you want except don’t call it The Library System of Lancaster County.
That way, when the time comes–and I know it will–that instead of reading about dysfunction, we will be reading about the great things that the public libraries in Lancaster County, together with a center for support services, have accomplished, we can refer to that group as The Library System of Lancaster County and everyone will know what that means assuming that the libraries would like to be known as a cohesive group of independent libraries serving the public’s needs with the help of an organization dedicated to its success–a “system” in every sense of the word.