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Reason Foundation

Why the New York Times and Library Patrons Shouldn't Be Angry About Privatized Libraries

Lisa Snell
September 27, 2010, 8:20pm

On Sunday September 25 the New York Times publishes an angst-ridden piece  implying that there was something fundamentally wrong with privatized libraries and that libraries are a “sacred” public service that should be protected from companies making a profit on the backs of library patrons. In "Anger as a Private Company Takes Over Libraries" David Streightfeld writes:

A $4 million deal to run the three libraries here is a chance for the company to demonstrate that a dose of private management can be good for communities, whatever their financial situation. But in an era when outsourcing is most often an act of budget desperation — with janitors, police forces and even entire city halls farmed out in one town or another — the contract in Santa Clarita has touched a deep nerve and begun a round of second-guessing.

Can a municipal service like a library hold so central a place that it should be entrusted to a profit-driven contractor only as a last resort — and maybe not even then?

“There’s this American flag, apple pie thing about libraries,” said Frank A. Pezzanite, the outsourcing company’s chief executive. He has pledged to save $1 million a year in Santa Clarita, mainly by cutting overhead and replacing unionized employees. “Somehow they have been put in the category of a sacred organization.”

As a patron of a huge library system that has been run by LSSI, the company that is featured in the New York Times article, for more than 13 years, let me just say that my personal experience with a public library under private management has meant longer library hours and more materials to choose from My children enjoyed story time just as much under private management. But don’t take my word for it! My experiences are validated by a large amount of outcome data that was recently published in a Riverside County report, The Riverside County Library System: Thirteen Years of Innovation, Experimentation and Progress, which details the real value that LSSI has added to the Riverside County library system.

During the 13 years of the partnership:

 Maybe Santa Clarita patrons should visit the Riverside County Library System before they decide that library privatization means the end of the community enrichment provided by the local library system. Maybe the New York Times should call some community members in Riverside and see if they are willing to return to the service levels offered during the 85 years that the city of Riverside operated the county system.


Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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