COMMENTARY: Logical Beginning for a Better Library

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.” ― Plato, The Republic

If San Benito County wants a better library for it residents, and it certainly should, there is only one logical place to start and that is with a professional, third-party, comprehensive needs assessment/strategic plan.

I am often asked why the city or county hires this or that consultant rather than doing the work themselves; in this case I believe the answers are compelling.

The first answer is political. The needs assessment/strategic plan must produce an unbiased view of the community needs and ways to get those needs filled that has no tinge of self-interest. In our county that’s a lot harder than it may sound. The county, city, users, employees, and community organizations all have a stake in the library’s future but, as the old saying goes, where you stand on an issue is often determined by where you sit. Some of the possible solutions may step on political and/or personal toes; they must be brought forward nonetheless. No single organization should be the arbiter of our future at this stage because it’s impossible for any invested interest to be neutral.

Additionally, several of the key players can be vulnerable to political pressure based on funding options and narrow, parochial, interests (we all have them) – not to mention the need for votes.  An honest third party opinion does not carry with it the personal animosity or historical baggage.

The second reason is expertise and experience. A carefully selected third party – one with extensive experience in the subject or closely related areas – can bring multi-discipline experts to the table. After all, there is no sense suggesting solutions that are simply impossible given the realistic limitations that exist.  Finances are going to be a major consideration and constraint; therefore, accurate cost analyses of the alternatives are critical and those costs are often driven by outside factors such as the cost of an Environmental Impact Report or the cost per square foot of renovations versus new construction, seismic safety, the ongoing cost of maintenance and operations. Everything from the noise level to landscaping has an impact.

Finally, a good needs assessment/strategic plan serves as the backbone for charitable gifts, grants, and bond funding. If the state does another library bond there will be fierce completion for project funds and the key element in winning will a well-reasoned project proposal based on a needs assessment as it was in year 2000. It’s a simple presentation IF you are ready; “Here are the needs and the documents to support it, and here is our detailed plan to fill those needs.”

I believe that one of the primary reasons our well-intentioned ideas have been floundering is that we have not comprehensively defined what it is we need and how we can best fill that need. This first step is essential, it’s the foundation of all that comes later. The city and county should commit to jointly funding a professional, third-party, needs assessment/strategic plan for the San Benito County Library to get us on our way.

Marty Richman

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Marty (Martin G.) spent his teen years in northern New Jersey. He served more than 22 years on active military duty, mostly in Europe, and is a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4, Nuclear Weapons Technical Officer. Marty then worked 25 years in various engineering and management positions in the electronics and energetic materials industries supporting the communications, computer, aerospace, defense and automotive sectors. He is a graduate, summa cum laude, from The College of Hard Knocks, among his numerous awards and accomplishments. He was a regular weekly Op/Ed columnist and feature writer for The Hollister Free Lance for seven years and a member of its editorial board for five years. Marty is a frequent commentator and contributor to BenitoLink on a wide variety of local, state, national and international subjects.   Marty was elected to represent the City of Hollister District 4 on the City Council in November, 2018. Marty and his wife, Joyce, have been residents of Hollister since 1996.