Opinion: Do Not Outsource Library Services

Update: The Observer received the letter below from retired Children’s Services Librarian Janine Jacobs after she learned about a proposed presentation  to the Library Board of Trustees from a private company that outsources  library services. Since receiving the letter, we learned from Ellen Ballard, Chair of the Library Board of Trustees, that the the presentation by Library Systems and Services (LS&S) has been cancelled by the presenter due to a lack of support from policymakers. We print the letter in modified form as privatizating of public services is an ongoing issue. 

Over the years the threat of privatizing the library has been stopped by concerned citizens. Recently there was a movement to put cost savings ahead of services to the community. A representative from the private company Library Systems and Services (LS&S) was invited to give a presentation to the Library Board of Trustees.

Over the years many communities have rejected contracting with LS&S or ended their contracts with them. The bullet-pointed items below are some of the more compelling issues that have been recorded by those libraries that have left LS&S or rejected the company’s offer to manage their library.

Savings not as expected. Escondido’s contract has the city paying for all technology, software, and maintenance costs as well as being billed for the cost plus 5% handling fee for materials. Santa Clarita Public Library in California found the net cost to operate the library in-house at the same staffing level as LS&S would save the city approximately $400,000 the first year after leaving LS&S. Calabasas Library saved $68,000 the first year after leaving LS&S.

Reductions of service. Some libraries have less service and more reduction of hours due to staff cutbacks resulting from the loss of professional staff.

Loss of local connection to the community. LS&S has been reported to substitute a remote reference service for local reference librarians. Also, with their standardized high volume buying there is a minimal collection of Spanish language materials.

Library Programming is controlled by LS&S. It is no longer up to staff to determine what best serves the local population’s needs and interests.

Negative Effect on library staffing. LS&S Staff serves at the pleasure of LS&S. They replace unionized workers with nonunion employees and often cut wages. This can cause the loss of experienced staff and result in a high turnover rate.

Negative effects on the library collection. When LS&S takes over, they get control of the library collection and they do the ordering.  LS&S saves money by narrowing the library collection and focusing on best sellers. This can result in the loss of ability to adapt to the needs and interests of local patrons.

Lack of transparency of finances. San Juan City Library in Texas left LS&S stating that LS&S would not divulge its profit margin. The Oregon State Library reported LS&S spent 28% of money from Jackson County on “other” but would not identify what constituted “other.”

Lack of willingness to talk in a public setting was given as one reason Prince William County, Maryland rejected LS&S.

Privatization of the library would take control of managing the library out of the hands of local staff and place it in the grasp of a for-profit company whose previously stated goal has been to generate outstanding returns and grow revenues and profits for their investors.

Please attend the March 24 Library Board Meeting to express your support of Fullerton Library. The meeting will be at 6:00pm in the City Council Chambers in City Hall.

If you would like more information about privatization of public libraries, please see the attached article from Library Journal related to efforts of patrons in Escondido, CA to stop LS&S in their community.  Additionally, here are links to some of the articles found on the internet related to LS&S and privatization:

• A short article about some municipalities that rejected privatization: https://capitalandmain.com/calabasas-and-other-towns-reject-privatized-libraries-0731 

• This webpage has lots of information and links from the Save Our Escondido Library Coalition and was created for communities who are facing outsourcing of their public libraries: https://www.escondidoindivisible.com/stop-library-outsourcing/

• A local news story about the events in Vineland New Jersey that resulted in LS&S withdrawing their offer: https://www.thedailyjournal.com/story/news/2017/09/29/community-members-strongly-oppose-vineland-library-takeover/716471001/

• A local news story about Santa Clarita leaving LS&S after 7 years: https://signalscv.com/2018/01/council-unanimously-votes-take-back-library-operations/

• News story about Jackson County Oregon leaving LS&S: https://www.mailtribune.com/top-stories/2016/05/12/library-contractor-takes-heat/

• Information about Seminole County’s decision to reject LS&S http://www.afscmeinfocenter.org/privatizationupdate/category/library#.Yh_5C-jMJPY

The American Library Association opposes privatization. Below is a link to a checklist for communities considering privatization of their library: https://www.ala.org/tools/sites/ala.org.tools/files/content/outsourcing/REVISEDSEPT2011_ALAKeepingPublicLibraries%20PublicFINAL2.pdf

Janine Jacobs is the retired director of children’s services at the Fullerton Public Library.

17 replies »

  1. Based on a New York Times article from 2010, LS&S’s business model and cost-saving seems to be founded on disdain for librarians. Here’s a quote from their chief executive at the time: “A lot of libraries are atrocious,” Mr. Pezzanite said. “Their policies are all about job security. That’s why the profession is nervous about us. You can go to a library for 35 years and never have to do anything and then have your retirement. We’re not running our company that way. You come to us, you’re going to have to work.” Never have to do anything? Pretty disturbing comments about a career dedicated to public service that requires a Master’s degree, is relatively underpaid, and is disproportionately female.

  2. Mr. Posey is the LSS employee who dropped out of the library privatization presentation attempt brought to Fullerton by Mayor Jung who says he was merely doing him a favor. Janine is a well-respected (now retired) head librarian. She provides lots of great links that show problems other towns have had with LSS that the for-profit company won’t tell you about. Mr Posey is also a Huntington Beach council member headed for a run in county supervisor campaign (remember his name in upcoming elections and think of the negative influence he would have countywide if he won that position). Also interesting to note that Huntington Beach libraries are not run by LSS.

  3. Fullerton taxpayers would be well served knowing that the Fullerton library hourly cost of operation is $1,325. The CA State average is just under $600. Riverside County library system is a client of Library Systems & Services. LS&S manages all 35 libraries and built 3 new locations. Their cost per hour is under $400 with an enviable level of service.

    • Why stop with the library Michael? Lets privatize Fullerton PD, and then Fullerton Fire Dept… heck lets just go ahead and privatize city hall and the city of Fullerton all together! Who needs a mayor, lets just hire a CEO! There are services a city provides its community that should never be looked at through the lens of a “FOR PROFIT” structure.

  4. The first thing cut in bad governments is access to truthful information. Thank you Janine for the heads up and the very interesting more info links in this article and for your great service as one of Fullerton’s favorite librarians. Hope you are enjoying retirement. And thank you Observer for keeping the public informed.

    • That’s funny. The Fullerton Library run by government employees is essential for “truthful” information?

  5. Privatization of the Library is yet another potential nightmare proposed by a Council that’s repeatedly proven difficult to impossible to trust and owes its existence to the 249 vote victory (out of 8197 votes cast) that Whitaker pulled-out over Aaruni Thakur, though you’d never guess this by the Council’s swagger. Can one say “over compensation …”

    I think the most important point made by the author above is the impact of privatizing the library (contracting its operation out to a for profit private entity) on the library’s content:

    “• Negative effects on the library collection. When LS&S takes over, they get control of the library collection and they do the ordering. LS&S saves money by narrowing the library collection and focusing on best sellers. This can result in the loss of ability to adapt to the needs and interests of local patrons.”

    The profit private entity will call the shots.

    And let us be clear there will be no turning back:

    Once the existing public library structure is gutted and replaced by the for profit contractor, it will be very difficult to impossible to go back to a true public library structure. All that will be available will be choosing between various private contractors, most for profit.

    So folks:

    Good bye to a Spanish collection except possibly Don Quixote,

    Definitely good bye serious African American collection, though “Good With the Wind” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” will probably be available,

    An LGBTQ collection? Are you serious? …

    And good bye to even a serious Asian collection (all those strange characters, who’d have time to censor all that content, better just not get one at all …)

    • Library Systems & Services leverages our national discount to expand library collections. Furthermore, library collections managed by LS&S are curated following an extensive demographic and local preference evaluation, including languages other than English. Our clients are well served by leveraging their materials purchasing dollars for an expanded collection. Fullerton spends about half the State average on books and materials. In 2021, that number was 6%. Library industry benchmark is double that.

  6. This is a very eye opening opinion and I agree with it. Privatizing our Library would be detrimental to the community it serves. I don’t understand these negative replies here, are the negative replies even from Fullerton residents?

  7. Sounds like no decision has been made. Why be negative? Meeting hasn’t happened yet. Why the scare tactic?

    • It isn’t a “scare tactic”, a decision has not been made but the issues and concerns should be brought up before the meeting. It also isn’t being negative, it is an opinion piece after all.

  8. I wonder what kind of conver$ation$ happened on the golf course with the major and a member of LS&S, more like L$&$. There is no reason to privatize any libraries.

    Residents need to email the mayor and council members, put pressure on them.

  9. Should a city employee be writing opinion pieces for a local newspaper?

    Hope you’re not doing it on company time!

    Nothing wrong with looking at options.

    • It’s the Observer so, let the reader beware. Opinion and “news” are often one and the same.

    • Correction: The author is a retired Children’s services librarian.

    • Why not? Suppose the city employee was not in the organization affected by the topic but was instead a local citizen who had an interest in the subject.
      What about you J.Blume? What are your motives? Are you a spokesperson for LS&S or maybe you have a relative who works for them?