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.