Anger mounts as a private company takes over libraries – including one in LA County

by on September 28, 2010 · 14 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, Education

Library private santa clar

The basic pitch that the company Library Systems & Services makes to cities is that it fixes broken libraries — often by cleaning house. (Photo by J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times)

By David Streitfeld/ New York Times / September 26, 2010

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. — A private company in Maryland has taken over public libraries in ailing cities in California, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas, growing into the country’s fifth-largest library system.

Now the company, Library Systems & Services, has been hired for the first time to run a system in a relatively healthy city, setting off an intense and often acrimonious debate about the role of outsourcing in a ravaged economy.

A $4 million deal to run the three libraries here is a chance for the company to demonstrate that a dose of private management can be good for communities, whatever their financial situation. But in an era when outsourcing is most often an act of budget desperation — with janitors, police forces and even entire city halls farmed out in one town or another — the contract in Santa Clarita has touched a deep nerve and begun a round of second-guessing.

Can a municipal service like a library hold so central a place that it should be entrusted to a profit-driven contractor only as a last resort — and maybe not even then?

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Old Hermit Dave September 28, 2010 at 12:39 pm

SHUCKS if Cheney/Rummy can privatize the Military, why not do everything. Private companies having access to our TAX dollars is much more profitable for them than having to actually sell stuff. Look at the record, we are still trying to find all those billions Rummy said he would find on September 10th 2001. Oh darn that’s right the section of the Pentagon with the money records blew up on September 11th 20o1.


avatar annagrace September 28, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Carl DeMaio floated the issue of privatizing our own City library system two years ago. It is my recollection that in order to outsource a City service, a minimum of two private providers are required to bid. There is currently no one else out there in the private sector to submit a second bid to operate the library system. At least for the moment, the operation of our library system is not under consideration for outsourcing, but the issue is not going to go away.

I have spent the greater part of the day researching private company Library Systems and Services (LSSI)and it has been frustrating. There is no salary information on the CEO and the owner, because LSSI is privately held. I cannot determine whether they pay corporate taxes in California. The company is based in Maryland, and again, because it is private, no info there either.

Citizens are currently up in arms over salary amounts of high level government officials. Public tax dollars will continue to pay for salaries when a service is outsourced and public tax dollars will also be paid to insure that private company’s profitability. LSSI takes over, staff salaries are reduced and benefits are restructured or eliminated. It’s called union busting. How much does the company’s CEO, Board of Directors and owner get to pocket? They don’t have to tell.

But truly, what blew me away about this article is that people want to volunteer in these privately run, profit driven enterprises. Does that really show “support” of our public libraries? Not in my book.


avatar RB September 28, 2010 at 3:49 pm

The City Library System should be merged into the stronger Count Library System.
The County Library branches are either new or being remodeled and they are not cutting hours.


avatar Frank Gormlie September 28, 2010 at 4:31 pm

We can never trust large corporations with the public library system. They are incompatible. There is nothing wrong with the City’s Library. We just need less short sightedness among our fellow San Diegans, more vision from the leaders, less privatization – not more.


avatar annagrace September 28, 2010 at 4:54 pm

You are quite right about county hours not being cut, but not correct about county branches across the board being new or remodeled. But at the very least we are talking about maintaining libraries as core PUBLIC services. I agree heartily to that.

It is also worth looking at the different funding mechanisms for the County and City systems. State legislation enabled the County to transfer property tax growth dollars to their library system. This legislation unfortunately did not apply to the City library system, although City library advocates lobbied hard for a percentage of that tax growth.

The City of San Diego was left to figure out how to provide both an operational and capital plan for libraries. The City passed a Library Ordinance (non-binding) which would have directed a certain percentage of the City’s general fund budget to the continued operation of the library system, starting from a base of 3% and peaking at 6%. The best the ordinance ever provided was a tad over 4%. Since Sanders became mayor, the Library Ordinance has been ignored, and now the library budget hovers around 2.9% of the general fund. The Mayor is calling for an additional five million dollars worth of cuts to our libraries if Prop D does not pass, and this will definitely mean closures.

Will a merging of the City and County system stabilize the operations of both systems and provide for ongoing capital improvements? This question has been raised before and will no doubt be raised again. I am listening.

Would a merger with County reduce the volatility


avatar RB September 30, 2010 at 9:05 am

The city is out of control and will not improve until they get their pension mess fixed.
How can a library system be expected to fund a $227,250 yearly pension like the one for Anna Martinez, librarian? The answer is by cutting hours.


avatar annagrace September 30, 2010 at 10:18 am

If you are making the case that the City is in dire shape solely on the basis of the “pension mess,” please tell my why the County is not in the same mess. Salaries for department heads and high level administrators are similar in both and the pension benefits for the those same positions are also similar.

The big difference- the City chose to underfund its pension obligation, and those birds have come home to roost. It is collective amnesia and too easy to describe those birds now, in a bad economy, as buzzards picking clean the bones of the taxpayer.

PS I worked for the City for over 26 years, and retired from the Library last year. I am also taxpayer, and I live in District 3, which has the lowest per capita income in the City.


avatar mr fresh September 30, 2010 at 12:16 pm

you know I always see conservatives talking about “fixing the pension mess”, yet I can’t seem to find a proposal for just how that would be done without costing the city more money via lawsuits. is there a concrete plan to do this? anybody got a URL?


avatar barbara September 28, 2010 at 5:40 pm

I am stunned. There is nothing that would move me to support privatizing the library system. Again, it is about priorities. We have the revenue but choose to spend it elsewhere. I just moved from the city 92115 where hours and staff were cut drastically. It’s a great library there and a great staff. I am in RSD now, El Cajon, and this library is open from 1-5 on Sunday! What a treat! I can’t tel you how many people who cannot go during the week take advantage of this. My own daughter is one.

Thanks for posting this most important piece and allowing the discussion on it.


avatar RB September 30, 2010 at 8:55 am

Yes, the county system is great. They did not cut hours or staff.
Also, I have heard that they may be increasing hours in October.
The County Libraries are increase hours rather than build a central monument.


avatar annagrace September 30, 2010 at 10:20 am

The county doesn’t have a central library, palatial or otherwise. County residents use the City resources at the Central library downtown.


avatar RB September 30, 2010 at 11:31 am

It is time to think outside the downtown box.
“In 2007, the San Diego County Library joined The San Diego Circuit, a consortium of libraries that includes San Diego State University, UC San Diego, CSU San Marcos, and University of San Diego. Library cardholders with any Circuit library may request books to be transferred to their local library at no charge.”


avatar Anna Daniels September 30, 2010 at 11:54 am

And since 2007 when the County system joined the Circuit, county residents have still needed to find a resource center for materials they need that none of those facilities will circulate. They continue to come to the Central library. Non circulating materials include primary source archival materials, the latest popular materials, and many micro-film resources are not available to circuit members. In addition, the Central library is the only patent depository south of LA. People come in from Riverside and Orange County and from as far away as Arizona to use those resources alone.

Back in 2007 I asked why the City wasn’t part of the Circuit. The city library system had by then undergone 3 years of disproportionate budget cuts in comparison to other General Fund departments. Simply stated, there was not enough to $ to cover this service. That is unfortunate, but the bottom line is that it would not have obviated the need for the central library’s resources.

PS. City card holders can request an inter-library loan from Circuit members and other libraries across the country through a different lending system.


avatar missewon September 29, 2010 at 10:27 am

What a sucky idea! Well, mostly because I work at a library. One of the biggest things I can see about this… do you REALLY want a private company to have access to all of your information? I guess all the corporations know everything about us already, but we’re not even supposed to let our volunteers help with checking out books because they’d have access to the public’s private information.

The city libraries need all of the help that they can get… please be vocal to every level of government in your support of the library. We have been so stressed out with the politics, economy and other b.s. for too long. All most of us want to do is HELP people. Please help us to help you by having our backs :)


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