Facing budget shortfalls, many cities are considering privatizing valuable pieces of their infrastructure or outsourcing services to private contractors. These deals are meant to reduce municipal costs, however, privatization is a bad deal, for city governments, for the public they’re meant to serve, and for labor standards.
Nationwide, city councils are making decisions about privatizing their public libraries. Often this happens behind closed doors, with very little community input and without a full understanding of how library services could be affected. In Southern California, public libraries in Camarillo, Santa Clarita and Ventura have all been targeted for a takeover by Library Systems and Services (LSSI), a private company headquartered in Maryland and majority-owned by Islington Capital Partners, a private equity firm in Boston that has about $35 million in annual revenue and 800 employees, according to the New York Times.
Privatizing public libraries means libraries will be de-professionalized (typically, libraries require that librarians hold an M.L.S. degree, but L.S.S.I. does not require its librarians to have certification or training. It’s no wonder that L.S.S.I. is able to save on librarian salaries when they’re hiring people who are not, actually, librarians). Patrons will pay more and receive less (a reduction of the public library to a commodity and patrons to customers) while LSSI makes a profit for its investors and shareholders. What may be worst of all about these deals, however, is the erosion of the vital connection between government and the citizens that government is meant to serve.
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Southern California Public Service Workers (SEIU 721) are partnering with community residents, local organizations and librarians that believe only patrons should profit from public libraries and to help keep public library services public. It’s happening in Santa Clarita, but it can happen anywhere. And that’s why we need to stop it.
Help stop the beast! Send a message to the Santa Clarita City Council to reject the privatization of their libraries.