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The Journal Gazette

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Saturday, August 04, 2018 1:00 am

Privatized libraries; public backlash

Efforts to privatize prisons and public education have been under way for years. Now, public libraries are the target of the privatization drive. 

Library Systems & Services, a for-profit company, has become the nation's third-largest library system, behind only the New York and Chicago public libraries. It promotes itself as many for-profit prison and school operators have done – promising savings through greater efficiency and innovation.

But In the Public Interest, an advocacy group supporting democratic control of public goods and services, argues that what Library Systems & Services has done at the 82 libraries it manages has been to “slash employee pay and benefits to turn a profit while shrouding its dealings in secrecy.”

“Last year it was hit with nearly $70,000 in penalties for wage and hour violations,” writes Jeremy Mohler, a writer for In the Public Interest. “In 2016, an audit of one of its libraries in Oregon revealed that 28 percent of the public money paid to the corporation was filed under the ominous category of 'other,' unknown even to public officials.”

Privatization of public libraries is not going over easily. Santa Clarita, California, ended its contract with Library Systems & Services this year after the company replaced all 17 of its librarians. In Seminole County, Florida, officials announced this week they would not sign a proposed contract with the company after they were flooded with angry emails and phone calls from residents.

“Our county loves its libraries,” County Commission Chairman John Horan was quoted as saying in the Orlando Sentinel. “I think all of us realized that we were probably not going to save enough money just by identifying libraries [to reduce costs]. However, we identified the fact that there is overwhelming support for our libraries and overwhelming support of the people to pay for them.”