Jackson County residents should know by August whether the library system can be run more cheaply by being outsourced.
County officials sent out a request for proposals this week from organizations or companies interested in running all 15 branches. They are asking for bids both on operating the libraries as a system and operating each branch independently.
The county also is open to additional proposals, such as consolidation of branches. The proposals must be sent back to the county by Aug. 6.
"This is not going to be an easy bid to respond to," said Bob Windrow, vice president of Library Systems and Services LLC (known by the acronym LSSI), a Maryland-based library management company.
Apart from LSSI, the only other party that has expressed a strong interest in submitting a proposal is the union that represents Jackson County workers.
All 15 branches closed April 6 because of a $23 million shortfall in the county budget.
During informal conversations with county officials, LSSI has indicated it might be able to run the library system for $5 million compared to the $8 million the county spent annually, though that amount wouldn't include maintenance of the buildings.
LSSI operates libraries throughout the country, including systems in Riverside County and Redding, Calif.
Windrow said on Friday he hadn't reviewed the county's 200-plus-page request for a proposal, but he did believe a centralized system would be more cost effective than running branches independently.
The city of Ashland plans to seek a September levy to raise about $1 million annually to reopen its library. The levy would add 58 cents per $1,000 in assessed valuation, or $145 annually on a house with an assessed value of $250,000.
A countywide levy last November and in May that would have charged 66 cents per $1,000 to reopen all the branches failed by overwhelming margins. However, Ashland and Talent residents voted in support of the levies.
Windrow said despite his belief it would be better to run a countywide system, his company would still be interested in operating an individual branch.
He said the county would also benefit from continuing the automated library computer system known as SOLIS (Southern Oregon Library Information System), because of the large expense in converting the data to another system.
Windrow said his company typically brings costs down by centralizing administrative duties and buying books for libraries throughout the country, among other savings.
Colleen Mercer, senior organizer for the SEIU Local 503, said the union will work with the county to develop an in-house bid, but declined further comment until the county's request for proposals is analyzed.
County Library Director Ted Stark said he will be working with SEIU to come up with a proposal as required under the county's contract with the union.
The contract states, "Prior to subcontracting services the county and the union will work together to develop in-house costs to provide the services."
Much of the language in the county's request for proposals is fairly open, allowing some latitude in the types of proposals.
"The county is open to proposals from the contractor on the most effective and economical distribution and hours of operation at each service location," stated the county request.
The county would require daily courier services to each branch Monday through Friday, outreach to the homebound and the continued use of volunteers.
While the county would pay for capital equipment costing more than $5,000, the contractor would be responsible for computers, photocopiers and other equipment under $5,000.
The county expects the contractor to take care of janitorial services at the branches.
Windrow said his company has taken care of janitorial services in other communities but his staff typically isn't involved.
"We specialize in running libraries, not running janitorial services," he said. "More than likely we would outsource it."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.