Library Privatization: Another Perspective

Back when privatization of library services received New York Times coverage, I blogged (Privatization of Library Services. Seriously?) that it couldn’t be good overall for communities or libraries. I haven’t changed that opinion, but I’m willing to give equal exposure to the discussion by acknowledging “another perspective”.

This one is from Lisa Snell, Director of Education, Reason Foundation, in a Reason Blog Post from September 27, Why the New York Times and Library Patrons Shouldn’t Be Angry About Privatized Libraries. She presents an interesting list of achievements by the LSSI-run Riverside County (CA) Library System over the past 13 years. She also provides readers with the link to the June, 2010, Riverside County report; The Riverside County Library System: Thirteen Years of Innovation, Experimentation, and Progress so they don’t have to take her word as a library patron for how great LSSI is. The report includes the details of Riverside County’s evolution of privatized library services.

Two things are worth pointing out as a context for “another perspective” on privatization. The first is the previous unsatisfactory conditions that lead to seeking a different “partnership” (operator / contractor) for the Riverside County Library System, and the second is who the Reason Foundation is.

First –
Apparently Riverside County Library System was run for 85 years by the City of Riverside, and after “A mid-1990s state-mandated proposition in California shifted property taxes to education, resulting in a dramatic reduction in library funding. Riverside County’s Board of Supervisors and County staff recognized they could no longer afford status-quo operations and defined a way to manage this precious public asset—our community’s libraries—with the discipline and analysis more typically found in private organization.” [Emphasis added.] This means to me that Riverside County sought privatization of its library services.

Although, in all fairness they had two other replies to their RFP besides LSSI, “the Riverside County Office of Education, [and] the San Bernardino County Library”. The Riverside County RFP required; “We insisted in the RFP that it was part of our “zero-based” planning and restructuring; that is, reforms would be required for the entire endeavor, not just working with “new money” or tinkering around the edges. We asked prospective respondents to give us “out-of-the-box” proposals for providing “traditional” public library services in a nontraditional way.” The County was also pleased to report that “Under the strict terms of this new partnership agreement, we also gained more control over the services and usage of monies that voters and the County’s municipal partners demand and deserve.” This means to me that the old partnership was simply not working to keep pace with community and library services changes or needs, so improvements were not only expected, but obviously long overdue. So, reasonably, almost any changes were an improvement.

Second –
Reason Foundation states; “Founded in 1968, Reason advances a free society by developing, applying, and promoting libertarian principles, including individual liberty, free markets, … advancing the values of individual freedom and choice, limited government, and market-friendly policies.” This means to me that Reason Foundation has a vested interest in promoting any privatization effort that expands a free market and limits government involvement. So naturally, it would try to highlight only the positive aspects of the LSSI-run Riverside County Library System.

My Opinion –
The reason my opinion has not changed is primarily because I don’t trust the opinions of either of these sources. I believe they are biased in favor of privatization, so therefore have presented only information to support their opinion.

One of the 21st Century Skills advocated is Media Literacy (21st Century Skills Model – Expanded) that promotes these tenets.

• Understand both how and why media messages are constructed, and for what purposes
• Examine how individuals interpret messages differently, how values and points of view are included or excluded, and how media can influence beliefs and behaviors
• Apply a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of media

So, I hope you are developing your 21st Century Media Literacy skills and applying them to the various opinions you read in Blogs (including this one), and all “news” media formats, and making up your own mind regarding the value of issues such as privatized library services. Riverside County’s report doesn’t change my opinion regarding library services, which I believe are a municipal responsibility and duty, and best achieved by the whole local community.

Your Opinion –
I’m very interested in your opinion.


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3 responses to “Library Privatization: Another Perspective

  1. See my blog for info on LSSI and the privatisation of UK public libraries.

  2. RockyRun

    Have you applied any rigor to evaluating the actual outcome of outsourcing (Riverside County did not “Privatize” their Libraries – they are still public) libraries? A member of the county council that voted AGAINST the outsourcing 15 years ago now ranks the decision as one of the best decisions made by the council in two decades.

    • Thanks Rocky.
      As I stated; I am interested in other’s opinions on privatization. No, I have not evaluated the outcomes of “outsourced” libraries. I’m very interested to understand the distinction between “outsourced” and “privatized”, if you can clarify that for me and readers. I’m also interested in why the Council member was initially against it, and is now in favor of it. Do you have a source for that?

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