watch the privatization beast eat your local library

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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.

Librarians Stand with Wisconsin

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Rallies were held across the country Saturday to support thousands holding steady at the Wisconsin Capitol in their fight against Republican-backed legislation aimed at weakening unions. Union supporters organized from New York to Los Angeles in a show of solidarity as the protest in Madison entered its 12th straight day and attracted its largest crowd yet: more than 70,000 people.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker has introduced a bill that includes stripping almost all public workers, from librarians to snow plow drivers, of their right to collectively bargain on benefits and work conditions. Walker has said the bill would help close a projected $3.6 billion deficit in the 2011-13 budget. He also argues that freeing local governments from collective bargaining would give them flexibility amid deep budget cuts.

ALA president Roberta Stevens on proposed collective bargaining legislation: “The ALA supports library employees in seeking equitable compensation and recognizes the principle of collective bargaining as an important element of successful labor-management relations. We affirm the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively with their employers, without fear of reprisal. These are basic workers’ rights that we defend for thousands of academic, public and school library professionals.”

Outrage over outsourcing in public libraries

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The Sunday New York Times published an article entitled Anger as a Private Company Takes Over Libraries which looks at the for-profit Library Systems & Services (L.S.S.I.), an outsourcing company that, according to the article, makes its money (more often than not) by “cleaning house”. In other words, saving taxpayers money by replacing unionized workers.

Library employees are often the most resistant to his company, said Mr. Pezzanite, a co-founder of L.S.S.I. — and, he suggested, for reasons that only reinforce the need for a new approach. “Pensions crushed General Motors, and it is crushing the governments in California,” he said. While the company says it rehires many of the municipal librarians, they must be content with a 401(k) retirement fund and no pension.

J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times

In Santa Clarita, California, where L.S.S.I. has been hired for the first time to run a system in a relatively healthy city, library workers aren’t the only folks expressing resistance to the privitization of public libraries. Jane Hanson, who is 81 and has been a library patron for nearly 50 years, was so bothered by the outsourcing contract that she became involved in local politics for the first time since 1969, when she worked for a recall movement related to the Vietnam War. “A library is the heart of the community,” said Mrs. Hanson. “I’m in favor of private enterprise, but I can’t feel comfortable with what the city is doing here.”

Here’s LSSI’s press releasecoverage from the Los Angeles Daily News, which refers to the company as “LSS,” and coverage from the Santa Clarita Valley Signal. Thanks to Norman Oder of LJ Insider who also wrote on the issue.


Vancouver Public Library Workers

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The following youtube video shows author/activist Naomi Klein (No Logo, The Shock Doctrine) speaking to Vancouver Public Library workers on Friday October 5, 2007, supporting the striking workers and noting the importance of pay equity for library workers.

What was it like during the lengthy (88 day) strike last year against the Vancouver Public Library, BC? “An Indomitable Spirit: The Eight Hundred of CUPE 391,” by Anita Galanopoulos et al., which first appeared in the Winter 2007/2008 issue of Progressive Librarian, can be downloaded here.