Why I’m Against Library Privatization

Privatization Beast
The Occupy movement has taught us a lot about the role of public spaces. In short, they are under attack. We saw this with the raiding of the Occupy LA encampment but also see this with the privatization of our public libraries.

Cities argue that they will have more local control and be able to do some smart cost savings by handing the library keys to a private company, but that is not the real end result over time. Instead, the “public” is taken out of Public Library and we end up with libraries that are run by a for-profit company with for-profit interests. The main goal of a corporation is to increase shareholder wealth, not to delight library patrons.

Because there is only one turnkey library system management company in the United States, Maryland-based LSSI, we can track patterns. Cities connect with LSSI who promise cost savings and more control since they will no longer be under the authoritative hammer of the County library system. Cities can then take the high road and create an authentic community-inclusive process to evaluate their options, which may include running the library on its own, create a hybrid system with other cities or partners, or to go with LSSI. The City of Ventura recently went through such a process and the City Council voted to stay with the County system.

If a city chooses to rush to privatize then it will largely bypass community involvement and do the minimum necessary to get out of the County system then create a contract with LSSI. We saw this in the cities of Camarillo and Santa Clarita. Simi Valley has recently taken this “no community” path towards library privatization.

The pattern also includes slashing benefits for library workers, blurring lines between trained professionals and volunteers, and hiding behind the corporate veil when there are any hard community questions.

The City of Simi Valley’s move to privatize is still not a done deal. There will be another Public Hearing on December 12, 2011 at the Simi Valley City Council Chambers at 6:30pm before they move to vote on the issue. Please contact me (jesse.luna at gmail dot com) if you would like to get involved and fight against this privatization beast that eats up public libraries.

For a more animated view of how library privatization harms communities, check out this great video created by Arts for Action. It already has over 300K views. Visit privatizationbeast.org for more information.

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6 Responses to Why I’m Against Library Privatization

  1. Ellen Cresswell says:

    For the past three weeks those of us against Privatization of the Simi Valley Library have attended the open council meetings and I took a tally of those for and against. The numbers were almost exactly as those that the public in Santa Clarita had, 89% against.

    In one and half weeks time we gathered about a thousand signatures against PR and presented them to the city council. One councilman, Glen Becerra, said that he was “leaning towards PR.” I knew that all along as I have had previous dealings with the city council and they are bent on doing what they want when they want regardless of public opinion.

    I changed our tactics from being against PR to petitions for a recall for the entire city council including the mayor. To say the least, they have done some really dirty back room deals and we are finding out how hard it is to outflank them.

    I deeply appreciate your site and what you had to say. As I stand outside the library collecting signatures I try to give out facts mostly using what happened at Santa Clarita as the model against privatization.

    One of the tactics we are considering is since the librarians are finding out that, in LSSI’s contract, that there is a demerit system for being late and a demerit for not telling on a co-worker who is late. This is such an odious practice that Nazi Germany is the first thing that springs to mind. They will lose their retirement benefits; well you already know how it goes.

    From the very beginning I questioned “Why isn’t your Union Rep handling any of this?” But I suggested that while they still are in a Union to strike. Please give feedback to this action if you can.

    One other option the Librarians are considering is to padlock the doors, keep the drop boxes emptied, etc. Please tell us what you think of this option and any other suggestions you might have. I.e.: “If you had it to do over again what actions would you have taken, maybe pre-emtive, that would be an option for us?”

    Our local paper, The Acorn has a reporter, Carissa Marsh who I have known for three years and I have been extremely disappointed with her biased reporting in favor of the council. So that isn’t an option. One person has a face book entry; there is one blogger who reports what is going on in Ventura County. But is there any way to get the attention of larger Newspaper and TV’s attention/coverage?
    Would you reply letting me know what your position was at the S. C. Library so I can use that as a source when confronting the council in the next meeting? I would very much appreciate it. Also, the council brings in only people that are for PR, from Santa Clarity and Camarillo, no one has come from the against position, would it be at all possible for you to attend our next meeting and speak?
    Thank You so much for what you have done and for what help you can give us.

    Sincerely,

    Ellen Cresswell

    • Jesse Luna says:

      Ellen, I haven’t worked for the S. C. library system. I work at SEIU Local 721 and have been involved in the fight to support transparency and accountability and not rush to a rash decision.

      Thanks for taking a stand on the issue and for supporting public libraries. Feel free to contact me at jesse.luna at gmail dot com if you would like to talk further on this issue.
      -Jesse Luna

    • dg says:

      Ellen,
      steve.chawkins@latimes.com steve.lopez@latimes.com bgoldberg@ala.org (Beverly Goldberg, ALA)and David Streitfeld of the NY times have written articles about this subject, perhaps you could contact them?

  2. Alan Wylie says:

    I am a Librarian and Library Campaigner from the UK and have been following the privatisation debate in the US with great interest. LSSI have tried to make inroads into the UK public library system but up till now have failed miserably see
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/save-the-uks-libraries-its-beyond-me-admits-us-guru-6268882.html
    they totally underestimated the level of protest against them and the lack of interest shown to them by councils and authorities!
    Keep up the good fight!

    • Jesse Luna says:

      Hi Alan, we’ve also been keeping track of what’s going on in the UK and am glad you’ve all helped kick LSSI to the curb. Unfortunately there are conservative groups that are targeting unionized public workers and public libraries and trying to zombify them into privatized entities.

      We’ll certainly keep fighting on this side of the pond!

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