Yesterday, after 14,141 Change.org members signed a petition in support, Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) signed into a law a bill that will make it harder to privatize local public libraries.
Librarian Gina Quesenberry started her Change.org petition after watching a public library system in Southern California be taken over by a private equity-owned, Maryland-based company with virtually no community input. There was little she could do to stop what was happening in Santa Clarita, so Gina focused her efforts on state legislation.
The new law protects taxpayers by requiring cities to go through an accountable, transparent process when considering library privatization. It's Gina's belief that - if given an opportunity to review the facts - taxpayers will reject most plans to privatize community libraries.
Privatization of public services is happening in cities and towns across America. This campaign is just one example of how Change.org members can have an impact on decisions made by state and local government.
Did you know that your California public library could be taken over by a private company? The good news is that there's a bill (AB 438) in the California Senate that will help protect libraries from reckless privatization schemes.
In Southern California, public libraries are being targeted for takeover by Library Systems & Services, Inc. (LSSI), a private company headquartered in Maryland and majority-owned by the private equity firm Islington Capital Partners. LSSI currently operates 14 library systems and is eyeing more in California. Last year in Santa Clarita, California, residents were allowed just one public hearing before the City Council rushed through a vote to hand over the city's library system to LSSI. Your library could be next.
When municipalities contract with private library service providers like LSSI, it often results in diminished library services and hidden costs to taxpayers. In Santa Clarita, for example, LSSI charges taxpayers a 5% fee for every new book purchased. Concerns arise over transparency and accountability, too. When public libraries are privatized, information that was once public - for example, library staff salaries - becomes proprietary information. The company is also granted access to patron records (e.g. your borrowing history).
So, what's in the bill? The proposed legislation will require local officials to give their constituents adequate notice of plans to privatize and to demonstrate that privatization will benefti the community.
AB 438 - which was passed in the California State Assembly in June and is now headed to the State Senate for a vote - stipulates that a city or library district that intends to employ a private contractor to operate the city's or the district's library shall require 1) a fair cost analysis, 2) proven savings to the taxpayers, 3) competitive bidding, 4) proven qualifications of the contractor, 5) doesn't displace employees, and 6) performance and financial audits are conducted.
If we're going to stop the privatization of public libraries, we need to start by requiring cities and towns to responsibly puruse these plans. After signing the petition, visit privatizationbeast.org to learn more.