Sunday, October 3, 2010

Outsourcing Public Libraries

Here is a news story I think I need clarification on! Apparently, there is a private company called Library Systems and Services that runs libraries. They've worked with smaller, faltering libraries, but have just been contracted $4 million dollars to run three 'healthy' libraries in Santa Clarita, California.

My first instinct is to say that whatever keeps a library open is good, even if it's a private company. It's better than nothing, right? On the other hand, does allowing a private company to manage a library mean the library's priorities are no longer right - provide service to customers and a wide range of material? Does having an outsourced company mean that choices like which books to add/keep to the collection will be made to follow the company's agenda?

My only familiarity with companies taking over management of public services admittedly comes from science fiction books and movies, particularly Gibson ones. Pepsi Library, say, where everything is adorned with the red, white, and blue logo and the books all promote Pepsi and you can never learn anything about Coke in them. Companies like Sony essentially owning countries. We're told this is bad.

Companies exist to make money. Libraries do not make money. They lose money; it's part of deal of providing mostly free services to patrons. Books get damaged, destroyed, lost. Fines don't cover the costs. What changes will a company make to reduce money loss?

Don't some public libraries have bias? Aren't books banned and removed from shelves even in public-run libraries? There are constant discussions and arguments over the censorship of books even in public library settings. Will it be much different with a company running the show? Aren't books - free books - still being provided to the community? Isn't that a good thing? I'm unsure how to feel about this.


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