I spoke by phone this morning to Matt Sylvain, Assistant Librarian at the Claire T. Carney Library, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, about his experience — along with a group of concerned citizens — in opposing a library privatization proposal for the town of Dartmouth.
He told me that ultimately they were able to defeat the proposal by demonstrating that little or no money would be saved by the privatization scheme.
In a follow-up email to me just now, he also said:
I had many conversations with proponents of outsourcing library services, and in many instances, proponents would imply that there is more than one company that provides the service. I’m not aware of a company that competes with LSSI in the business of outsourcing library services.
In his article last January in the New Bedford Standard Times, “Library professional speaks out on possible library privatization,” Mr. Sylvain had this to say about LSSI:
There is literature on the outsourcing of library services that provides us with reasons to be suspicious of LSSI’s claims. In his article “The Outsourcing of Public Library Management” LSU Professor Robert Ward found that “achieving gains in efficiency, and citizen satisfaction, are questionable.” In his research, Dr. Ward discovered that in the LSSI-run Riverside, California library system, the library’s budget rose 18% from FY 1997-98 to FY 2001-02. Meanwhile services such as circulation decreased significantly, and the unit cost for service delivery increased by 58%. Paying more and getting less is neither more efficient for the municipality, nor is it more satisfying for citizens.
There are additional reasons to question and doubt LSSI’s ability to increase efficiencies and satisfy residents. The Fargo, North Dakota library system, for instance, terminated its contract with LSSI for allegedly being delinquent in paying bills. If this isn’t bad enough, as a private firm, LSSI does not have to be transparent. It does not disclose its budget and the residents it serves do not know how their money is used. One thing the residents do know, however, is that under LSSI, some of their municipal tax dollars will go to LSSI executives in Germantown, Maryland.
Nevada County Executive Officer Richard Haffey’s October 1st memo to the Board, concerning our own county’s library budget problems, concludes with this recommendation:
Therefore, we are recommending that the County seek proposals for a qualified operator to deliver library services at the current service level within the existing resources. If we receive a qualified proposal(s) we will negotiate a contract for the Board’s consideration before December and implement a contract at the very beginning of the calendar year. We need to convert the delivery of service to a contractor as soon as practicable so as to preserve as much of library resources as possible or it will necessary to reduce services substantially. Our current County Librarian would be retained to oversee and administer any contracts and to advise the County on Library matters.
It will be interesting to see how many “qualified operators” ultimately submit RFPs for the privatization of Nevada County’s library system.