The public library is an American institution – but right now, it’s under threat of being transformed from a public service to a for-profit venture. AB 438 is a result of a year-long effort by community residents, local organizations, librarians and labor organizations to save public libraries from widespread privatization efforts. Recently, the city of Santa Clarita privatized their library services and instead of saving money (as the private stated) it will cost the local taxpayers $12 million, and AB 438 addresses these types of hidden costs.
Currently, Library Systems and Services (LSSI) is the only private company that offers turnkey private library management in the United States and is often the only company in line to take over a local library system. LSSI has taken over libraries in Oregon, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Kansas and California, and has diminished services and staff while relying on more volunteers to make a profit. Privatization threatens America’s public libraries and library services and community residents are upset that they do no not have a voice in the matter. Read the New York Times article about the struggle in Santa Clarita.
SEIU launched the www.privatizationbeast.org campaign earlier this year to support and coordinate local community efforts to preserve quality public library services, and now there is legislation — AB 438 (Williams) waiting on Governor Brown’s desk — that will establish standards for transparency and provide protections for taxpayers through audits and accountability. There will also be safeguards protecting quality jobs and that communities will also have the opportunity to express their concerns.
As a public librarian, I believe that library services should be available to everyone, and this can best be done through a strong public library system. The residents of Santa Clarita did not have a choice or a voice in their City Council’s decision to privatize their libraries and how their tax dollars are spent but AB 438 will change that for other communities. With the help of CREDO and change.org more than 71,000 Californians signed petitions in support of AB 438 and librarians along with public library supporters across the country joined them.