Anger as LSSI Takes Over Santa Clarita Libraries

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. — A private company, Library Systems & Services, 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.

The basic pitch that the company L.S.S.I. makes to cities is that it fixes broken libraries — often by cleaning house.

Now the company, 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?

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.


yes, privatization of libraries means more volunteers. you can't run a library cheaply if you are required to pay everyone a decent salary. when you have a weak economy, you get lots of volunteers who otherwise would kill themselves out of boredom.. plus, there's sometimes donuts in the break room that you can smuggle out so you'll have something for dinner.

the comment used a +10 sarcasm spell

Website for LSSI:

Excerpt from site:
Founded by library professionals, Library Systems & Services, LLC is the country's premier provider of library management services.
The innovative solutions and new options we provide communities, city officials and library professionals are designed to help them successfully surmount their challenges and create a brighter future for their library.
Since 1981, LSSI has been partnering with communities to provide more efficient and effective ways to manage new and existing library operations.
We specialize in helping communities create a fresh, revitalized, new beginning for their library:
- implementing cost-saving efficiencies
- locating un-tapped funds
- harnessing today's electronic resources
- creating community outreach programs LSSI is continually finding innovative ways to help the libraries and communities it serves to become more successful.

So if a private company provides free public library services, how can they turn a profit? Oh wait, their profits are derived from tax dollars that would otherwise go to providing adequate wages and benefits to the hardworking people that staff these libraries.

What about the qualified local professionals who cannot find a job within a 75 mile radius of home?

LSSI has sued in Florida to remove a state aid requirement that each library have a library professional (MIS/MLS) as its director. Apparently, LSSI can't turn a profit if it can't get state grants. Corporate welfare.

"Libraries, like museums...are disproportianately used by wealthier citizens who fund them by taxing the lower orders, all in the name of civilizing the brutes. It's a great scam."


Museums, sure. I can see the argument there, but libraries - no damn way. If Mr. Gillespie really thinks that wealthier citizens are our primary library patrons he has clearly never been in one, especially not lately.

Oh wait! He admits as much from the start, and I'm disinclined to empathize with the opinions of someone who worked as a part-time page more than three decades ago.

I do think that library professionals, and I am one, are often way too quick to demonize privatization outright. I'm as skeptical as anyone else, though I tend to think that there is little a private company would do that a strong-willed government could also do to change the way a library operates. But to suggest that libraries do not primarily meet the needs of underserrved groups is downright ridiculous. The library is a portal to job search resources, the internet, adult literacy programs, ESL classes and a host of other resources and services that are definitely not subject to heavy use by the wealthy elite as Mr. Gillespie apparently thinks.

So, should Mr. Gillespie take a moment to reflect on the computer/internet access that enables him to write and post his faux-populist garbage he may be well-served to unplug for awhile and still try to be productive. You know, head to the library and use the computers in hour-long increments. Maybe if he reacquaints himself with the modern public library he'll have less to complain about.

But I'm not holding my breath.

An admitted libertarian in a basically libertarian publication, who really doesn't use public libraries. Geez, here's an expert who's going to offer a balanced view of a community-funded service! He seems particularly outraged that those poor ignorant folks in his community passed a new fee to improve library service: How dare they?

He worked with lazy people 30 years ago and is therefore an expert on libraries? That *is* an interesting response.

I do not get the impression that the CEO of LSSI values libraries, the communities they serve or his employees very much.

Where LSSI can really save taxpayers money is by getting rid of pensions. When a city hires a low level clerk and that clerk works 20 years you pay them for 20 years and then you pay 20-30 years of pension. Low level clerical jobs should not be getting pensions. People should not be working low level clerical jobs for 20 years. Libraries should hire people for 3-5 years for low level jobs and then turn over the staff so that pensions do not have to be paid.

State are local governments are being killed by pensions. 401ks are good enough for the working joes across the country and it should be good enough for city and county clerical staff.

I have a city library so I can get cheap DVDs of "The Office" not so I can pay high tax rates so some clerk can retire on the public dime.

I can already hear the crying. "Libraries provide a service so library workers should get a pension." Response: Starbucks also provides a services. Why don't we make all baristas public employees and give them a pension after 20 years? Just like you should not work your whole life at Starbucks you should not work a clerical city job for 20 years. To discourage people from doing this pensions should be eliminated.

so you'll tip the clerk like you tip the barista? 10%? let's see... Internet cafes charge $11/hr... there's a buck... we do over 100,000 Internet sign-ups a year at my branch... that bestseller: two bucks... I could see that my tip jar would fill up fast. so no, in that scenario, I guess I could survive with my own savings.

Here is your tip: Your job does not have a pension. Don't stay in this job for 20 years.

I don't mind if the city/county gives you a 401K. I am not saying that there can be no retirement at all but you should not be getting more than what all the people that work in the private sector get. We get a 401k you get a 401k. Pensions are a dead concept.

For people that live in cities that have overburdened pension systems get out of that city if you can. Then the city can fail and all the pensioners can collect zero when the host they have been sucking off of dies.

I wouldn't assume that every clerk you see earns a pension. Its just not true anymore, if it ever was. I am a middle manager at a public library. I pay into a state-run pension fund (more akin to a 401K honestly, because it is mostly dependent on contributions from members--but it is also supplemented by library dollars) because I am full-time here. All of our clerk-level staff do not have access to this fund unless they work over 18 hours per week. Our administration has worked over the last few years to limit the amount of part-timers that work over 18 hours (kind of heartless, I know, but we have to keep a budget). So today there are about 6 people in my building earning this "pension" and about 40 people who aren't.

Your entire statement is based in major generalizations and assumptions on the operation of libraries and the people working in libraries.

From working in libraries and in another position in the public sector, I can tell you that laziness doesn't just exist in libraries. It's a problem in government jobs in general. I have been predicting this would happen for years because of government HR's lack of enforcement and unwillingness to fire anyone. I worked with many people in the library who would work about 15 hours a week, but put 40 on their timesheet.

Furthermore, I have never seen such a total lack of management leadership and professionalism as I see in the library profession. In my 20 year career, I have honestly only met one library administrator who knew what they were doing and was a true leader. Granted, I'm in the midwest and maybe the situation is better elsewhere.

Do I think LSSI is going to save the situation? Probably not. But in a lot of ways, thel ibrary profession has brought this on themselves.

I question the professional makeup of any individual that makes a statement like "In my 20 year career, I have honestly only met one library administrator who knew what they were doing and was a true leader" and stayed with such organizations themselves. you have fairly low standards of yourself to work within this situation.

Here is a good point from the article: Then last year for the first time I took a close look at the actual numbers. According to the ALA’s own website, there were 460 challenges across the nation in 2009. That sounds like a lot — until you consider that there are more than 99,000 school libraries in America, where most challenges take place, plus nearly 10,000 public libraries.

While math is not my strong suit, even I can see the chance of a book being challenged at your library are about 1 in 198, or approximately one half of one percent. That doesn’t sound like much of a threat to me.