Excellent editorial from Nevada County in January 2010:
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Much of the information gleaned from “Privatization/Outsourcing Report for the Dartmouth Public Libraries, 2008.”
Dartmouth ultimately voted against library privatization. This report can be viewed at: www.dartmouthpubliclibraries.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/privatization-report-december-2008/pdf
Pertinent facts regarding privatization include, but are not limited to, the following:
• Privatization is a very new phenomenon (first tried in 1997), and there have been no studies of long term effects on library performance.
• Of the 9,198 public libraries in the U.S., only 13 are currently being outsourced to private enterprise (interestingly, several weeks ago the number of privatized libraries was listed as 14, so one library system may have opted out of privatization).
• All of the 13 contracts mentioned above are with one private company, Library Systems & Services, LLC (LSSI), thus establishing a clear monopoly. Historically, monopolies have been shown to not operate in the public interest, and do not result in either cost savings or improved service.
• As a private non-corporate business, LSSI has no obligation to report financial records, thus depriving the public from knowing their profit margins and priority of expenditures.
• Of the 13 library systems currently experimenting with privatization, not one have done so in order to save money. In fact, there is no evidence that library privatization is less expensive than continued public operation.
• There are several hidden costs in transferring library operation from the public to the private sector. These include but are not limited to: Loss of volunteer hours and donations from both individuals and local businesses; cost of studies and implementation to transfer from the public to the private sector; costs of possible litigation by unions, private individuals and/or other groups contesting transfer from the public to private sector (as happened in New Jersey where LSSI's contract was nullified by the state supreme court); the need to provide competent oversight of private operation, which necessitates some type of “contract management” provided by the county; possible cost of reverting to public operation if the county is not satisfied with LSSI's performance of library operation.
In light of these facts, certain concerns arise over the effects of privatization:
• There is a clear conflict of interest in the public's need for expansive library services and the profit motive of LSSI. The expressed fear in the Dartmouth study was that understaffing and reduction of services are means by which LSSI might maximize profits at the expense of quality service.
• no one in our local library system has had experience with privatization, which puts our otherwise excellent County Librarian at a clear disadvantage in administering such a radically different type of operation.
• Censorship is a clear danger in a privatized library system. If private business, for example, has a vested interested in any political issue, there is a danger that specific books would be excluded from distribution while other, more partisan, materials were not. This would turn our libraries into political tools for special interest groups.
By definition, public libraries are nonpartisan. Their mission is to provide a wide range of materials for citizen to consider when confronting issues vital to our democratic system. Please note, this is not a political issue. We all would lose a vital arm of democracy if libraries came under the control of any political agenda.
• Government intrusion into the lives of citizens would become much more likely if libraries were privatized. In recent years, it was public librarians that led the resistance against attempts by the FBI and other federal agencies to gain access to the circulation records of readers. Political conservatives in particular should be adamantly opposed to privatization, on this point alone.
For some reason, our county administrator, Rick Haffey, has proposed library privatization rather than explore other options. Recent letters to the editor have offered several alternative suggestions for continuing a high standard of public library service.
Moreover, creative methods might well be found to resolve this issue if the county administration would proactively seek to maintain our long tradition of public operation, rather than pass the buck to private enterprise.
Many thanks to William Larsen of Nevada City