A private company in Maryland has taken over public libraries in ailing cities in California, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas, growing into the country’s fifth-largest library system.Key phrase here: "...while in other places, opposition has faded with time." That's how it works.
Now the company, Library Systems & Services, has been hired for the first time to run a system in a relatively healthy city, setting off an intense and often acrimonious debate about the role of outsourcing in a ravaged economy.
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.”
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L.S.S.I. got its start 30 years ago developing software for government use, then expanded into running libraries for federal agencies. In the mid-1990s, it moved into the municipal library market, and now, when ranked by number of branches, it places immediately after Los Angeles County, New York City, Chicago and the City of Los Angeles.
The company is majority owned by Islington Capital Partners, a private equity firm in Boston, and has about $35 million in annual revenue and 800 employees. Officials would not discuss the company’s profitability.
Some L.S.S.I. customers have ended their contracts, while in other places, opposition has faded with time. In Redding, Calif., Jim Ceragioli, a board member of the Friends of Shasta County Library, said he initially counted himself among the skeptics.
But he has since changed his mind. “I can’t think of anything that’s been lost,” Mr. Ceragioli said.
The library in Redding has expanded its services and hours. And the volunteers are still showing up — even if their assistance is now aiding a private company. “We volunteer more than ever now,” Mr. Ceragioli said.
This guy volunteers for a private, for-profit company and he can't think of anything that's been lost? Maybe his pride and common sense are under the bed with the lost socks. When library hours and services are cut because they're not sufficiently profitable, he won't find them there, either.
That "overhead" they cut is another word for your services. Why would you rather put money into shareholders' pockets than into good jobs in your own community? The for-profit library isn't going to cost any less, and you won't see a penny of the profit it turns.
There are many services that - done properly - can never and should never create profit. Health care and education are tied for first on that list. Public access to information is another.