Local Effect of Proposed Library Bills

There are at least two bills filed for the upcoming legislative session that would make changes in the way libraries in the state are operated.  The most changes would be in the bill by Representative Paul Hollis.  The Journal asked Red River Librarian Trey Lewis to take a look at the information put out by the state House, and Lewis said that the bill if enacted would have little or no effect on the local library’s operations.

This comes at a time when a “Friends of the Library” group is in the formative stages in the parish.  The Journal is presenting the whole text of the release from the Legislative Communication Office about Rep. Hollis’ bill, Lewis’s reaction to it, and then a release from the state library concerning another bill that would make other changes in parish libraries.

So that you may be informed on this issue, the Journal is presenting all three items for your review.

The release from the Legislative Communications Office:

Bill by Rep. Paul Hollis Will Ensure Greater Local Accountability for Our Public Libraries

Public Library Accountability Act

“Our communities pay for and use our public libraries, so there should be greater accountability, ensuring local library systems work best for those they serve,” said Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Mandeville.

“The taxpayers in my parish of St. Tammany generously provide roughly $12 million dollars a year to our library system, yet there is little if any elected oversight.  Once library control board members are appointed, there is no community accountability, with five year terms.  There is no mechanism to ensure the library system works for the community it serves.  As we’ve seen across the state with frustrated taxpayers at parish council meetings and heated library board of control meetings, the current system is just not working.”

“Various municipalities and parishes throughout the state have different interpretations of how much authority they have to regulate or oversee their library system, and the truth is, some probably do have more authority than others under current state law.  This bill makes it clear: each community and its elected representatives have the right to oversee the library system that serves them.”

“There is no one size fits all approach to handling things.  It can’t be mandated from Baton Rouge.  The truth is, different communities have different standards, and what works for St. Tammany parish may not work for East Baton Rouge parish, and that’s fine.  This bill puts the power in the hands of the community to make sure their library system operates the way they want it to.”

“I am concerned that without the necessary reform that my bill brings, residents in communities across the state will lose more and more trust in the library system that we know is such a critical part of our society.  Some parishes have upcoming millage renewals that may fail unless the taxpayers believe they have a say over how their library system operates.”

Hollis’ House Bill 25 also gives municipalities and parishes the right to have more citizen involvement, should that community so desire.  However, it does not mandate that any municipality or parish change anything about their library system.

“The important thing to know across the state is, this bill gives communities the tools to run their library system the way the community wants.  If you are a municipality or parish that is happy with the way your library is running, this bill will not obligate you to change a single thing.”

Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum said his organization is in support of the bill.  “We believe the Hollis bill is an important step in ensuring that Louisiana families are provided public library systems which are safe and age-appropriate for children,” he said.

Rick Franzo of Concerned Citizens of Saint Tammany also voiced his respected organization’s support.  “With unanimous support by our Board and Advisors, we fully support State Rep. Paul Hollis’ bill that will bring transparency and accountability with local controls to a governmental entity that receives 12 million dollars annually from taxpayers,” he said.

“The financial priorities of the library system in municipalities and parishes should reflect those of the community they serve.  This bill gives them the tools to ensure that,” Hollis concluded.

Here are the comments from Red River Librarian Trey Lewis:

This is the information I received from state library a couple of days ago.  Honestly for us its much ado about nothing.  As I understand this it is trying to codify general laws and regulations under one set rules that apply to all parish libraries.  Right now they can differ from parish to parish.  As far as we are concerned when the Police Jury reset our Board in June of 2014 to reflect the 5 year staggered terms we adopted most all of these proposed measures.  As it is now the Library Board of control does serve 5 year staggered terms…the Board members are appointed by the Police Jury and can be removed for cause by same.  As far as additional public input and oversight from the bill I really don’t see it, as nothing new is mandated by the law, rather its left up to individual parishes.

One of the new provisions allows for the jury to set up commissions and boards to look into how things are run by the library board and employees.  That is the only substantive change I see and even that is kind of vague.  The library system they quoted was St. Tammany which is a huge system with a large yearly budget and hundreds of employees.  Here we are so small the community knows all the employees and what we are doing. They have a voice on what materials and programming we provide and expose our children to.  We work hard to make sure we don’t breach the trust of the community by promoting materials or programming which goes against our community standards and welcome input from our patrons on any aspect of library service.

Overall I am sure this bill will make some substantive changes in some parishes, none in others.  It doesn’t seem to be anything sweeping that will change how things are done in most, at least not as proposed now.  Because of the size and nature of our library and the quality and interest of our staff and library board of control in making our library the best it can be, our public already has significant input.  I am sure that much larger systems don’t allow for such instant access.

The final acceptance or rejection comes down to the voters and whether they continue to fund a library or any organization for that matter.  If they don’t feel they have a voice, funding and support will rapidly dry up.  A good library, like a good school system is reflective of a community as a whole and is looked at by prospective residents as well as businesses.

Here is the release from Meg Placke, Deputy Assistant Secretary/Deputy State Librarian:

Another bill has been filed concerning public libraries:

House Bill No. 25

The proposed law makes changes to R.S. 25:214 and 25:215.

Abstract: Grants parish and municipal governing authorities certain powers over local

public libraries.

Present law authorizes parish and municipal governing authorities to create, by ordinance, public libraries. Requires parish and municipal governing authorities to create public libraries when petitioned by not less than 25 of the duly qualified property taxpayers of the respective parish or municipality. Further requires parish governing authorities to appoint not less than five nor more than seven citizens of the parish as a board of control and municipal governing authorities to appoint five citizens as a board of control.

Proposed law retains present law.

Present law requires board of control members to serve five-year staggered terms.

Proposed law instead provides that members serve at the pleasure of the governing authority.

Present law authorizes the board of control to establish rules and regulations for its own government and that of the library not inconsistent with law.

Proposed law clarifies that the board’s rules and regulations cannot be inconsistent with state law and additionally provides that the rules and regulations cannot be inconsistent with ordinances of the parish or municipal governing authority.

Proposed law additionally grants the parish or municipal governing authority the power to regulate and oversee the board of control and its officers, employees, and libraries and to conduct the oversight through separate panels, commissions, or boards, which it may create for that purpose.

Comments on this article are welcomed at RedRiverParishJournal@gmail.com.  Or you may comment directly to Librarian Trey Lewis

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