2011-10-21 / Front Page

New bill targets library outsourcing

Law places more requirements on cities that want to take control of libraries
By Darleen Principe

Moorpark and Camarillo libraries are now among several in California that must meet stringent new requirements in order to continue operation.

On Oct. 8, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 438—which specifies a list of requirements regarding contracts, employment, financial performance and other aspects of library privatization.

The measure, which was sponsored by the Ventura Readers Book Group, targeted Marylandbased library outsourcing firm Library Systems and Services, LLC (LSSI)—a private, for-profit contractor that operates about 70 libraries across the nation, including Moorpark and Camarillo’s.

In a statement issued on Oct. 10, Brad King, CEO of LSSI, said the bill was “bad public policy masquerading as ‘open government’ and ‘transparency.’”

“(AB 438) is a thinly veiled ban on contracting out, which will take away responsible options for cities just as state and local budgets are being slashed,” King said in the statement. “As a result of Gov. Brown signing (AB 438), more communities will be forced to close libraries, library hours will be reduced and library workers will lose their jobs.”

Prior to signing contracts with LSSI, the libraries in Moorpark and Camarillo were operated by the Ventura County Library System.

Moorpark pulled out of the county system in 2007. Camarillo followed suit in January of this year.

City Councils in both cities made the decision to abandon the county system in hopes of cutting operational costs and getting more control over the library’s budget and programming.

Under the new law, California libraries that have been outsourced or privatized will be subject to the new requirements until Jan. 1, 2019.

One requirement states that any city or board of trustees that is considering privatization of their public library must announce its intention to go private four weeks before any action is taken.

The city or board must also “clearly demonstrate” the contract will result in actual cost savings to the city or library “for the duration of the contract,” according to a bill analysis released by the California Library Association.

Another key requirement of AB 438 prohibits privatization contracts from causing existing city or library employees to lose their jobs or seniority.

The argument

Proponents of AB 438, including various “friends of the library” organizations, the California Teachers Association and the California Democratic Party, argued that library privatization diminishes the quality of public services.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents many library employees throughout California, also backed the measure.

“AB 438 gives communities a voice by establishing taxpayer protections through audits and standards of transparency when corporations seek to take over a trusted neighborhood resource,” SEIU stated on their website.

Library workers from Ventura and Los Angeles counties who are members of SEIU led a 14-month campaign to help get AB 438 passed.

Cindy Singer, SEIU Chapter 721 executive board member and LA County Community Library Manager, said in a statement last week that libraries have become an increasingly important resource because of the troubled economy.

“When times are tough, public institutions such as libraries prove their worth more than ever,” Singer said.

“By signing AB 438, Gov. Brown put taxpayers and the public ahead of the profits of privately held corporations.”

Moorpark and Camarillo libraries

Mark Smith, vice president of West Coast operations for LSSI, said the company provides a “very cost-effective library management system” for Moorpark and Camarillo.

According to prior Acorn reports, Camarillo Library paid Ventura County about $3 million to operate in 2010. When the city contracted with LSSI, they signed a $1.9-million budget for 2011, including $400,000 for the purchase of new library resources.

“It definitely allows (the cities) to be able to call the shots,” Smith said. “They get to determine how their collection dollars are spent. They can also provide more input into the kinds of programming and services the local library offers.”

With regard to the argument that privatization diminishes the quality of services, Smith said LSSI brings “a lot of expertise” to the individual communities.

“ I don’t quite understand where that argument comes from,” he said. “It’s not really borne out of what you would observe if you came and looked at our libraries and what we’re doing there.”

In Moorpark, three out of nine library employees have master’s degrees in library sciences, Smith said.

Camarillo library has six “MLS librarians,” representing about a quarter of the total staff, he said.

Smith said LSSI also hired all former library staff who sought a position at the time of the crossovers.

“The people who are opposed to LSSI make these statements but sometimes, frankly, I don’t exactly see it in what we do on a daily basis,” Smith said.

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