Laurel Prchal found herself in a very peculiar situation at the Medford library Thursday as she applied for her old job as the Talent branch manager.
After her interview was over, the brass from Library Systems and Services LLC questioned her extensively about her thoughts on extending the hours of operation at her former branch.
"It was kind of strange," said Prchal, "There's a part of me that said, 'Am I going to be hired?' "
Prchal is one of many former Jackson County library workers who are applying for jobs with the private company known as LSSI that will operate the 15 branch libraries that have been closed since April 6.
Medford's Central Library was a beehive of activity as a team of eight LSSI officials interviewed prospective employees, struggled to get an important Internet connection working, and tried to get a handle on what needs to be done to get the branches open by the first week in November.
Frank Pezzanite, president and chief executive officer of the company, said that compared to other public library systems they've operated, "This was a high-quality system."
As to Prchal's future, Pezzanite would say only that his company wants to hire as many former library workers as possible because of their institutional memory and professionalism.
LSSI will be interviewing through Saturday, then begin again next week.
Mark Smith, transition team leader for LSSI, said another important issue to be resolved is setting up the operating hours for the branches.
LSSI has agreed to operate libraries for a limited number of hours. Talent was scheduled to get 16, but the City Council voted to add a utility surcharge of $1.25 to $1.50 a month per household to bump the hours up to 40.
Prchal, who was branch supervisor for five years and worked in the Medford teen section for 10 years, said the council wants the library to be open six days a week and until 8 p.m. for two days a week, possibly Wednesday and Thursday.
Smith said LSSI is weighing the needs of each community in determining the hours for each branch, but would like a schedule that has complementary hours so that if one branch is closed another one might be open.
He said the company also will try to roll out as many of the programs that were offered under the old system as quickly as possible, such as those geared toward children.
Smith said the company makes every effort to create a library system that offers the same or better level of service as they received previously.
He defended LSSI's record and level of service after it came under question in a recent Mail Tribune opinion column written by Sarah Beasley, president of the Oregon Library Association.
Beasely wrote that Jackson County libraries circulated 7.43 library materials per person in the county, compared with Riverside County, which circulated just 2.04 materials per capita.
"In these and other key indicators, the Riverside system falls considerably below not only the Jackson County Library, but also below the average for the state of California as well," Beasley wrote.
Smith said he doesn't dispute Beasley's numbers, but said it paints only a small picture of what LSSI has accomplished in Riverside and other systems it operates around the country.
He said circulation numbers also have to be weighed against hours of operation, which are sometimes cut because of fiscal constraints. In Jackson County, for example, the number of operating hours for the library system will be cut in half. Demographics and geography of an area also factor into the circulation numbers, he said.
When LSSI first started in Riverside County, it had to operate under a budget that paid $10 per capita, but that has been raised to $20 per capita. In Jackson County, the rate per capita was more than $40 under the old system.
"We work within the budget we're given," said Smith.
In Riverside County, 18 new libraries have opened up in the past 10 years. The number of full-time equivalent employees also has increased from 119 to 193, he said.
When LSSI took over, it operated 25 branches in that county. With addition of another new library there recently, there are 33 branches, including two bookmobiles. In the next fiscal year, three more libraries will open in Riverside County.
He said the libraries have developed an extensive outreach program that includes instruction in English as a second language for the Hispanic community. The Riverside library won an American Library Association award in 2005 for its outreach program.
LSSI also has worked to get $2 million in grants over the past two years and has developed an automated computer system that is shared by San Bernardino County, he said.
Smith said the library's accomplishments show LSSI has a solid commitment to making a strong library system in Riverside County.
"It shows that you can put that library system toe to toe with any library in the U.S.," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or email@example.com.