By Joyce DeWallace, Feature Writer
Marlborough – In July of 2010, budget cuts hit the state libraries hard and the six regional library services were restructured. The Massachusetts Library System (MLS) was charged with cutting costs, consolidating services and moving its headquarters to Marlborough, with an additional office in the western Mass. town of Whately.
The MLS provides services that help libraries make the most of their resources. Greg Pronevitz from the North Shore was named executive director and faced the daunting task of restructuring the underpinnings of 1,700 libraries.
“We wanted a more accessible location. With I-90 and 495, Marlborough is easiest for people to get to and also cover the whole state,” Pronevitz explained.
“One consultant told me to get ready for the ride. We focused on what we needed to do most – our core services. I knew what I needed to do and where we had to go, but much faster,” he said.
The new director faced many challenges, his first being to put together a management team. Then there were the personnel issues, figuring out how to manage the organizational changes and untangling the financial accounts of six different systems. It was tough. Out of 50 jobs, 32 were eliminated. The delivery system of interlibrary loans was completely revamped.
MLS oversees most of the libraries in Massachusetts. Besides the 371 public libraries, there are 126 academic collections at various colleges and universities, 1,000 school libraries, and 240 special libraries, including the trial courts, public and private law libraries, hospitals, corporations, museums, even historical societies. Its delivery service moves more than 15 million items among those libraries each year. If you request a book, a movie, other media, specific journals or articles, it's MLS that delivers them from one library to another.
The MLS mission is to foster cooperation, communication, innovation and sharing among all these different entities and to provide access to excellent library services and resources for all who live, work or study in Massachusetts.
To do that, MLS provides a multitude of services. Its continuing education program keeps library staffs current on the kaleidoscope of rapid changes evolving in how to get information. Cooperative purchasing leads to deeper discounts and bulk buying for books, library materials and supplies. Advisory services offer free consulting to librarians, their staff, even to trustees and friends who support local libraries. The database services of electronic resources allow users to access information at home, in the office or at the library. Resource sharing is promoted by the interlibrary loan and journal article loan delivery services. Thousands of children, teens, adults and families participate in the summer reading programs.
It was an uphill battle, but Pronevitz rose to the test. After appointing his assistant director, he hired a business manager. He focused on the state-wide delivery service, contracting with a private firm, establishing 35 routes with 550 stops that operates six days a week and reached a new level of efficiency.
“I managed to get the state group to go in the same direction and get excited about the process,” he said.
A vendor was put in place to use technology to reduce paper and labor, eliminate 900 miles of label paper, cut 8,000 hours of library manpower, and save $100,000 per year. The MLS also had success in state-wide training programs that increased the productivity of staff, helped with professional development and made the system more efficient. From the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the MLS won a grant funding the Massachusetts Broad Band Initiative, which will provide fiber optic connectivity throughout western Mass.
Future plans include finding ways to increase efficiency, improve ergonomics and safety in the processing of library materials, refine a vision for resource sharing in an electronic environment, addressing the licensing and copyright issues of electronic delivery, and most of all, restore funding to more adequate levels.
“Our mission is to help libraries be as effective as possible in meeting patron needs. I believe libraries are essential to our communities because they are an important component of our democracy by providing all users with information, no matter what their economic situation.”