War of words: Are private libraries best?
August 23, 2011
Those amendments to the legislation, AB 438, Das Williams (D, Santa Barbara), have local librarians waiting and watching, said San Luis Obispo County Library Director Brian A. Reynolds today.
“With this particular bill, I’m not sure what to do. It’s morphed several times (since introduction),” he said. “I just sent a lengthy report on it to (County Administrator) Jim Grant.” San Luis Obispo County officials have not adopted a position on the bill.
The bill stipulates that a city or library district intending to employ a private contractor to operate a library shall require a fair cost analysis; show proven savings to the taxpayers; conduct competitive bidding; verify proven qualifications of the contractor; assure no displacement of current employees; and require performance and financial audits provided by the contractor.
A number of California counties and cities have contracted recently with a Maryland company to operate. Community libraries now under contract to Library Systems & Services of Germantown, Maryland, include 35 in Riverside County; four in Shasta County; three in the city of Santa Clarita; and one each in Moorpark and Camarillo. Several dozen more are operating in Oregon, Kansas, Tennessee, and Texas, according to the LS&S web site.
The shift toward private management of these libraries has alarming implications, according to the League of California Cities, a leading opponent of the Williams bill.
A League opposition paper asserted, “When local government officials contract out library services, they are doing their best to keep the library open. This legislation undermines this effort by dictating how and when public officials can contract out a service.” Also worrisome to opponents is a “further erosion by the state of local control.”
Proponents include labor unions, which sponsored a rally at the state capitol Monday and which claim the legislation, if passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, would provide taxpayers with “important information about library privatization efforts in their community.” Also, the bill would require “credible evidence that the community will benefit from privatization.”