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Citizens Deserve More Input Into Library Privatization

by on November 29, 2012

In October 2010, the Camarillo Public Library was privatized (Knight 2010). Library Systems & Services LLC (LSSI) operates the library instead of the Ventura County Library System. There are no obvious outward signs of this event. The library looks the same and probably functions the same. I visit it periodically to do homework and it is a beautiful, clean space. Out of curiosity, I would like to ask the staff about how this affected them, but that might not be tactful. The idea of surrendering a public entity to a private, for-profit company still concerns me. I am not alone. California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill, AB438, in October 2011 that places more requirements on California cities electing to outsource library services (Kelley 2011).

Often privatization is about cutting jobs and staff benefits (Oder 2004). LSSI operates another library in my area, the Moorpark City Library. Of LSSI’s open employment positions, many are only for 18-20 hours per week. Given that many positions require only a high school diploma, it can be expected the compensation reflects that. This could be a viable option for those who do not yet have the MLIS. Yet, there are considerations to make, such as, what are the health benefits? Do you even receive them if you are a part time employee?

I understand how patrons may overlook privatization. In Camarillo’s case, there was little local media coverage. I am concerned with how privatization is dealt with by local governments. It is rarely announced. No one gets to vote. It is often not even explored in the local newspaper.  It is best if citizens have greater oversight in these decisions.That is why I am glad Governor Brown signed AB438. After all, the library is for the “public.” Certainly we want our institutions to work for us and be cost effective. However, is privatizing the library the best way? We citizens  need to have our say.


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