Livingston Runs Library By the Book

The Alachua County Library District operates like a business, and new director Shaney Livingston is making sure it succeeds in business terms.

Livingston is in a good position to do so, having served in leadership roles with the library system for the past 20 years, beginning as budget director.

But Livingston recognizes that succeeding means more than balancing the books.

It also means adapting to the needs of patrons in today’s digital world—through everything from maintaining subscriptions to digital databases to providing workstations for people who don’t have Internet access at home.

Livingston is confident that she can succeed because of what she learned from her predecessors, Ann Williams, who served as director from 1987 to 2004, and Sol Hirsch, who was director from 2004 through the past June, when he retired.

Livingston, who is completing a master’s in library science from Florida State University in December, also is confident that the library staff is skilled at its work and will carry on the library system’s excellent service.

Beyond her experience within the library system, Livingston brings to the job her longtime connections to the community. Professionally, those connections include serving as an administrator with the Central Florida Community Action Agency before joining the library district. She is also a member of the Alachua County Children’s Alliance Board, the United Way Community Visioning and Strategic Planning Process, the Florida Library Association and the American Library Association.

Personally, Livingston’s connections within the community include being a member of Springhill Baptist Church, along with her family.

Livingston’s community involvement includes helping create the Library Partnership, a 7,250-square foot center at 1130 NE 16th St. in Gainesville that combines library services with access to 30 social services.

Last year, the Library Partnership received national recognition from Harvard University’s Bright Ideas program as an innovative government project. We talked to the new director as she assumed her new role.

How did your previous work prepare you to be director?

Throughout my 20 years with the district, I have been part of the management team, which gave me a broad overview of everything the library does.

My most recent position was director of administrative services. I was responsible for our personnel services, facilities management, automotive services, volunteers, risk management and pensions.

I was heavily involved in long-range planning, which allowed me to be involved in our services, our building program and our policies and procedures. That meant I was the strategic director for the library. For example, when we launched into technology, I was involved in it.

I know all the staff. From the input that I’ve gotten, I think about 90 percent of them are ecstatic because they feel like they have a known person to deal with.

What did you learn from Ann Williams and Sol Hirsch?

When Ann was here, I primarily was involved in finances, but we also talked a lot about different programs, policies, procedures and contracts. She gave me an opportunity to have my hands in all the pieces of the pie.

After Ann retired and I was promoted to director of administrative services, I had an even broader perspective. I was at the table when Sol discussed partnerships and different programs that we launched.

Both Ann and Sol were my mentors. I was able to watch them and to learn from them about administration and advocacy.

How can business owners and others help the library?

We’re always looking for volunteers. I want to tap into the business community and organizations to provide computer training to the public. Also, businesses can provide workshops on topics such as understanding retirement and energy efficiency.

We have limited staff to do this training, but there is a great need for it. Many of our patrons aren’t computer savvy, but they need to use e-government.

Sometimes we spend 30 minutes helping someone set up an e-mail account. You have to have an e-mail account to apply for food stamps or search the social service programs.

You need an e-mail account to file for unemployment compensation. My goal over the next year or two is to find organizations that would use our meeting rooms for computer training.

We’re also looking for donations and volunteers for our literacy program. People also can volunteer through our volunteer coordinator to shelve books, mend books and help in other ways.

The Friends of the Library book sales are very popular. What is the role of the group?

The Friends help fund things like bringing in authors to do programs for us and purchasing books and DVDs. The group also has purchased land and provided staff scholarships. They’re always looking for volunteers.

The Friends also serve as advocates for the library. When we go to Tallahassee during the legislative session, the Friends are part of our group.

The library system has a dedicated property tax millage, separate from county government’s millage. How does this help the district?

Being an independent taxing authority makes a world of difference. During budget time, we’re not competing for funding with other agencies, such as law enforcement or emergency medical services.

This is one of the best things that happened when in 1985, Rep. Sid Martin offered to draft an enabling act to create the district.

It’s really great to know what our funding will be from year to year, since 95 percent of our money comes from property taxes. It puts us in a position over the years to be really prudent in our planning.

How much has your tax base decreased?

This year, it decreased about three percent, about the same as everyone’s else did. We have been able to adjust to a modest decrease in revenue because we’re always planning ahead, and we make a five-year budget projection every year.

Looking forward five years allows us to consider several scenarios based on whether the tax base increases, decreases or remains constant. We have a Plan A and a Plan B.

We’re constantly looking for savings. I’m proud of the lighting retrofit program we implemented in the past year. We changed the lights in all our facilities and received a GRU rebate and reduced our utility bill by $125,000 a year.

Another big project was bringing all our copying in-house. We have been paying roughly $125,000 a year to send out big copying and printing jobs. A couple of years ago, we looked at it. We found out that we would have upfront costs the first year but that we could save $350,000 over three years.

Do you serve the various people who are disadvantaged?

Serving everyone is a very important to us. I’m constantly reminded of the digital divide. As we move forward with 21st Century technology, we have to be mindful of people who don’t have access.

We’re serving both the underprivileged and the unemployed. People who become unemployed may find they can no longer afford Internet access. The library becomes their resource center.

As we move forward and talk about e-books, downloadable material and smart phones, we have to keep in mind that there may be a certain population that doesn’t have those things. So we need to maintain some collection and some services to ensure that we are meeting the needs of all of our patrons in whatever format they need it.

How have you increased the number of workstations available to the public?

It’s grown from 20 workstations in 1988 to 292 today. Every year, we budget for more workstations. In our Archer branch, we set up laptops along the wall in the meeting room. The meeting room is being used more for computer access than for meetings.

What are some other examples of the library responding to the community?

Our most exciting branch is the Library Partnership, a neighborhood resource center off of 16th Street. It doesn’t have the most circulation, but it’s the one that has drawn national attention.

Having a library in teamwork with the Partnership for Strong Families under one umbrella has worked well. It takes away that stereotype that someone is coming there because they need a social service.

Unless you’re really paying attention, it’s really impossible for people to know why you’re there. The Partnership with Strong Families rotates about 30 different social service organizations that meet all kinds of needs through the center.

The Casey Foundation awarded the library a grant that enabled us to open the center in 2009.

Many people in the state and from other states have come to visit the center. There’s been a lot of interest in replicating our model. We’re planning to use it as a model in our new branch at Cone Park on East University Avenue.

What’s the status of the Cone Park branch?

We plan to open in a 1,300 modular building in late October, and we plan to build an 8,000 to 10,000-square-foot branch that will be open in 2014.

The City of Gainesville is currently putting in a track, a volleyball court, a basketball court and other things at the park.

How do you go about hiring librarians?

There is somewhat of a shortage of librarians because of many people who are retiring. The most important thing we look for in job candidates is their ability to provide good customer service.

As we fill vacancies, we’re rethinking the qualities we’re looking for. As we move forward in the technology age, technology sills are just as important as reference and circulation skills.

As important as technology is, I would hate to see a library one day that had nothing but computer technicians and had lost the basic skills of doing reference work and operating the circulation system.

What are the strengths of the staff? Do they fit the stereotype of the librarian who is always trying to keep things quiet?

The staff is our greatest asset. What they have most in common is their enthusiasm.

We have great diversity in terms of age and years of service. That means that we have many different ideas coming to the table. We’ve moved away from the days when librarians tried to keep everybody quiet.

When we renovated our Alachua and Millhopper branches, we added “teen spaces.”

A teen space is a closed-in area in which teens have the flexibility to share a computer, to play the Wii and to interact with each other without disturbing other patrons.

In our computer areas, we expect a certain level of noise because people are more interactive than they used to be. On the other hand, we added a “quiet reading room” at our Millhopper branch.

How else are you adapting to the times?

We’re still providing our traditional services but for the last several years, we’ve been looking for more partnerships seeing what we can do for the community.

For example, we formed a partnership with the University of Florida to have the Mobile Outreach Clinic from the College of Medicine set up once a week at our Tower Road, High Springs and headquarters locations.

This clinic has really taken off, especially for those people who can’t afford health care and can’t really travel very far.

What do to you see on the 10-year horizon?

First, I want to keep the district financially sound.

The next thing is for us to keep abreast of technology. That’s the world that we’re in. I also want us to continue to be a strong community partner.

Most of all, I want the community to see the library as essential, not just an amenity. Most people just think of books when they think about the library, but I want everyone to know that we offer much more. I want to be on the map in the community.

How do you think your knowledge of the community helps you as director?

I have a good relationship with Alachua County, which provides various services for us. I’m very familiar with the management team as well as the human resources, purchasing, legal and finance departments.

I also have a good rapport with our partners, including the people involved in the Partnerships for Strong Families and the mobile health clinic.

At this point, I’m re-introducing myself to these people in my role as director to reassure them that, “Yes, I’m interested in continuing this partnership. Here are some thoughts I have about how we can continue to collaborate and do some things differently.”

Last year, we developed a co-op between Putnam County and Levy County. We now have a working relationship with them. I think that one of the concerns they had when Sol left was, “What happens to this co-op?” I’m reassuring them that we’ll have a seamless transition.

What’s your essential philosophy?

In terms of my service in this organization, my essential philosophy is that I know that we can’t be everything, but I want to ensure that we serve our patrons, that we’re meeting the needs of the patrons wherever they are and that we have something for everybody.

In my personal life, my goal is to be the best that I can be and to always treat people the way I want to be treated.

Libraries Provide Many Business Resources

The Alachua County Library System can be your business partner, providing more help than you could imagine.

Much of that help is in the form of online information from subscription databases that you can’t access through the Internet. All you need to do to sign into the databases is type in our library card number on the library system’s website. The databases include:

Morningstar, a stock and mutual fund research service;

Reference USA, a collection of business and residential data;

Safari Books Online, which features publications about software and web development;

Plummet research, a database of business trends;

Job Now, which helps users create resumes, prepare for job interviews and look for jobs; and

Murphree Law Library.

The libraries also have a collection of business-related books and e-books you can download. You can request an inter-library loan of books from any participating library around the county.

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