An Alameda County Grand Jury report released June 26 on a controversial three-year-old automated check-out system has raised questions about the library’s ability to manage its contracts effectively.
“While the library is generally satisfied with the installation of the new Checkpoint system, its procurement and management of the Checkpoint contract raises concerns about the library’s lack of policies and procedures,” the report states.
The report’s criticism of library management, however, was questioned by Councilmember Darryl Moore in an interview with the Daily Planet on Tuesday. Moore sits on the library board as a trustee.
The checkout system, which uses radio frequency identification devices (RFID), in which chips are imbedded in library materials and scanned by a machine, was purchased from New Jersey-based Checkpoint Systems in 2004 for $643,000. The library paid up front for the system with $143,000 from library funds and a $500,000 loan, which is to be paid in full by next year. The loan will have cost about $57,000 in interest.
The library has an annual $35,000 maintenance contract with the company and purchases chips at 77 cents each for books and magazines and $2.12 for CDs and DVDs. About 31,000 items were added to the collection in 2006-2007, Library Director Donna Corbeil told the Daily Planet in an interview last month.
“During the term of the contract, the library did not hire or assign a person to oversee and manage the implementation of this contract nor did it request assistance from the City of Berkeley that has resources to manage and oversee a contract of this size and nature,” stated the report. “Additionally, the library’s financial manager was assigned to work at the City of Berkeley’s housing authority and therefore was unavailable to manage the contract. As a consequence, documentation and management of the project was woefully inadequate.”
Moore said, however, “To say no one was managing the contract is ridiculous,” noting that the building project manager at the time, Elena Engel, was assigned to do just that.
Moore also said that the temporary move of the library’s Finance Manager Berverli Marshall from the library to the housing authority took place “way after” the contract was put in place in 2004. Marshall was working at the city housing authority from Feb. 6 to July 30, 2006, according to Library Deputy Director Douglas Smith.
The report states: “The library is not obligated nor has it historically asked for assistance from the city of Berkeley because it seems to value the independence granted to it by the Berkeley City Charter. “
It goes on to say that it’s just by luck that contract disputes did not develop with the vendor: “Use of proven policies and procedures exist to prevent contract compliance issues. Had the library managed this contract properly, it would have obtained assistance on (i) negotiating the terms of the contract, including the timing of payments, (ii) day-to-day management (particularly in a technology context), (iii) scheduling of delivery of services, equipment and training, (iv) contract compliance, and (v) adequate documentation, to name a few.
“The Board of Library Trustees must realize that adopting proven procedures available through the City of Berkeley in the use of public funds gives the public the assurance that those funds are being managed properly. Its current laissezfaire approach to managing such large contracts is not in the public’s best interest.”
Moore said that a Trustee subcommittee has been working on new regulations for contracts and procurement for eight months. “They’re looking at the requirements of the city” he said.
Community members have expressed concerns about the possible intrusiveness into personal privacy that the RFID chips might present—an individual carrying a book being tracked or an individual’s reading habits monitored–and have brought performance issues to the Library Board of Trustees.
However, the Grand Jury report did not look at the issue of privacy, but did indicate some concern with performance, saying the director “is working with members of her staff and with Checkpoint to improve the system.”
It concluded, however, that the system “was generally working.”
Library Director Donna Corbeil, named to the post in December, said on Wednesday that she thinks the system is working well, but noted that she is working with a staff team that is considering doing a survey of the public to see what they think of the system and making the system easier to use by installing signage.
The library and other Alameda County Grand Jury reports are available at: www.acgov.org/grandjury/reports.htm
In other library news, the library board is looking for a new member to replace a trustee whose two four-year terms will end in August. The deadline for applications is Oct. 1, which is Sunday. The application on line at www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/commissions/library/default.htm and at the City Clerk’s office located at 2180 Milvia St.