NJ Library Co-op Faces Looming Shortfall

LibraryLinkNJ, a statewide cooperative that oversees a $1.36 million interlibrary loan (ILL) delivery service serving 2,600 public, private, academic, corporate, and other libraries throughout the New Jersey, will stay in business at least one more year after members voted to approve a $2.38 million budget for its fiscal year 2019.
LibraryLinkNJ (LLNJ), a statewide cooperative that oversees a $1.36 million interlibrary loan (ILL) delivery service for 408 public libraries in New Jersey, will stay in business at least one more year after members voted to approve a $2.38 million budget for its fiscal year 2019, which starts on July 1. The vote came despite LLNJ’s candid warning that it will cease operations as of June 30, 2019, unless $370,000 can be found to plug a looming revenue shortfall. The budget passed 134–30 with four abstentions on June 13 at LLNJ’s Spring Membership Meeting in Monroe Township, NJ, but only after a bone of contention was settled for the nonprofit’s delivery partners. LLNJ’s FY19 budget includes a $200,000 cost-sharing contribution from libraries that use the sprawling network of pickups and deliveries. But until the meeting, there had been no word on how those facilities would split that lump amount, only assurances that an LLNJ committee was working on the matter and details would emerge sometime this fall. Right now, the delivery network is free for participating libraries. LLNJ serves 2,600 public, private, academic, corporate, and other libraries throughout the Garden State and receives the bulk of its operating revenue from the New Jersey State Library (NJSL). At the June 13 meeting, Montclair Public Library Director Peter Coyl proposed a budget amendment capping every delivery partner’s contribution at $500. “I couldn’t vote for a budget when I didn’t know how it would affect my library,” Coyl told Library Journal. After discussion by members, the amendment was adopted and the budget vote took place. Coyl said he voted for its passage. Although just 168 votes were cast among LLNJ’s 1,146 voting members, executive director Kathy Schalk-Greene said, that easily surpassed the 5 percent of membership needed for a quorum and participation was roughly the same as for past budget votes. “The fabric held, at least for now,” said Ricardo Pino, director of the West Milford Township Library in New Jersey’s Passaic County. Pino voted against passage of the budget, saying LLNJ and NJSL have not been proactive in recent years as far as planning for an uncertain future. Amy Babcock Landry, director of the Livingston Public Library in Essex County, also had concerns about LLNJ’s sustainability, but cast a vote to adopt its latest budget nonetheless. “While voting yes gave me pause, I knew a no vote would actively do harm to a lot of libraries and a lot of library users,” Landry told LJ. “It’s time to start big-picture conversations. In the end, we work better when we work together and we work better when we have all the information.”

FUTURE FUNDING

Some cuts may happen sooner. Schalk-Greene has been frank in warning LLNJ that services beyond the statewide delivery network will begin winding down as early as January 1, 2019. These include a range of continuing education and training programs, as well as ambitious innovation services, the latter of which include initiatives such as customized social media consultation and secure mobile device charging stations at New Jersey libraries. Money for those core missions, she added, has been pared back significantly in the FY19 budget. Staff layoffs at LLNJ’s office in Piscataway are also on the table, Schalk-Greene said. She told LJ that three of her six full-time employees and one of two part-timers could be let go at some point after January 1. “There’s nothing definite about 2019,” she said on June 14. The cost-sharing cap solved one problem, but Schalk-Greene admits there is a larger quandary looming. Right now, LLNJ has no strategy in place or concrete ideas to pursue toward raising the $370,000 it needs to continue serving libraries beyond the midpoint of 2019. To stay in business beyond June 30 2019, Schalk-Greene said an LLNJ committee will work to devise an advocacy strategy that could potentially yield grants, private donations, or even legislative solutions. Ideas are welcome, she said. “We’re in the infancy of advocacy efforts for this year to develop more funds,” she told voting members during a virtual town hall on June 8. There is a slight glimmer of hope coming from the New Jersey Legislature in Trenton. As the state budget process accelerates, a Senate resolution to support the New Jersey Library Network—one of two categories of state aid to libraries—with an additional $1.3 million appeared to have bipartisan support. But it's far from a certainty. And even if that money makes it into the final spending bill, State Librarian Mary Chute said, part of that cash infusion could bolster LLNJ’s survival prospects. But she stopped far short of declaring it a potential salvation for the cash-strapped cooperative.

THE WELL RUNS DRY

LLNJ’s newly adopted $2,388,962 budget includes $10,000 from workshop fees, $9,000 in investment income, and $93,000 from NJSL, which Chute described as unused money from federal LSTA grants that can be used as a one-time supplemental payout. Since 2010, when LLNJ emerged as New Jersey’s lone library cooperative (there had been as many as six dating back to 1985), the organization has relied on two main revenue sources. One is the $1.84 million it receives annually from NJSL, a line item that remains unchanged since FY11, officials said. The second is a pool of reserve funds created by the dissolution of the now-defunct library cooperatives. LLNJ has depended on this money to balance its books each year. For the soon-to-expire FY18, $455,000 in reserve funds was spent. But those cash reserves have dried up, Schalk-Green said. For FY19, LLNJ will use $200,000 in reserve funds. But that’s the last of it. State officials said there’s nothing left in that pool. Asked why NJSL simply doesn’t dig deeper to help LLNJ, Chute said the state library has budget-tightening problems of its own. “We have already stepped forward,” the state librarian said, mentioning the $93,000. “We don’t have any other place to take it from. We have skinny-ed down ourselves.”

DELIVERY DILEMMA

Statewide delivery is perhaps LLNJ’s most tangible way of boosting library services across the Garden State. The cooperative funds a complex network that serves 271 public libraries among its 408 clients. For FY17, LLNJ’s vendors moved 5 million items, mostly books and DVDs, with an estimated value of $100 million, back and forth between member facilities. An online database facilitated orders and let patrons locate and request books they wanted from home. Delivery costs, however, have risen sharply over the last 12 months, due mainly to a state-mandated change in vendors. LLNJ paid $940,000 over FY18 to fund the network. But that number jumped a whopping 45 percent to $1.36 million in the next budget. “We know how important delivery is to our members,” Schalk-Greene said during the town hall. “For many years we had a great deal on delivery. It was significantly below market value.” For most of northern New Jersey, transportation of loaned materials became a full-blown crisis in the first few months of 2018. By law, LLNJ had solicited bids and hired a different company, the Los Angeles-based Expak Logistics, to handle all pickups and shipping starting last January. But after Expak suffered initial hiccups with some of its own vendors, hundreds of books and DVDs became mired in a huge delivery backlog. Warehouses were brimming with loan materials awaiting transport and library patrons in densely populated Bergen, Essex, and Morris counties chafed at huge delays. In March, Expak exercised an opt-out clause in its contract with LLNJ and the cooperative had no choice but to issue another Request for Proposal, recruit more bidders, and award a new contract. The new vendor is TForce Final Mile, a nationwide company based in Dallas. But the days of bargain contracts are gone. The good news is, the delivery backlog has long since been eliminated and there’s been a “smooth transition” to TForce as the new vendor, Schalk-Greene said. If LLNJ shuts down midway through 2019, as is feared, Chute said, SLNJ could continue oversight over statewide ILL delivery. Schalk-Greene said LLNJ could have drafted an “austerity budget,” one that would have funded ILL deliveries and not much more, to be voted on. Instead, the proposed spending plan maintains a commitment to continuing education and innovation projects. Nonetheless, the new budget does see substantial cuts in both areas. For FY19, the cooperative budgeted $50,000 for continuing education, less than half of the  $111,000 spent in the previous 12 months. Exactly $5,000 is earmarked for special projects in FY19; that’s 94 percent less than the FY18 total.
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Diane Ranney

As a librarian from another state, I cannot comment on the fiscal policies of NJLA or others, but I can suggest that coming together with businesses might be a way to help the situation. Libraries are so essential now and have so much more to offer in the way of services, that letting this vital service die seems a crime. I am sorry for the vendo who was not able to deliver on the ILL service; and, am relieved that we in Massachusetts have one who is able to fulfill the role admirably.

Posted : Jun 28, 2018 10:58


Jeanne Marie Ryan

The New Jersey library community needs to come together to establish statewide priorities and then work to achieve those goals in a cohesive manner. Continuing that conversation is essential to moving library services forward in New Jersey.

Posted : Jun 27, 2018 03:53


NJLIBRARIAN4TRUTH

LibraryLinkNJ will not be saved. The New Jersey Library Association will not save it because they only care about their stupid $0.41 per capita bill which always fails. The NJ State Library will not save it because they killed off the other library consortiums over the years so this is par for the course. There is no grassroots effort underway to save seven librarian professionals from unemployment. Another library resource gone because of weak leadership in NJLA and indifference from the State Library. It will be the people of NJ who suffer the consequences.

Posted : Jun 27, 2018 07:43


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