Escondido Library – Public or For-Profit?

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Local activist with Masters Degree in Library Science speaks against privatization following a presentation by LS&S.

On Tuesday, July 11, 2017, the Escondido Public Library Board of Trustees had their regular meeting – always held on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month, at 2 p.m. in the Library Board Room. Other than approval of old Minutes and a quick Update on the Summer Programs at the Library, the topic at hand was the closing of the Public Library and its sale to Library Systems and Services Corporation.

Some months ago, current City Manager Jeffrey Epps, along with the former City Manager, attended a presentation by LS&S that introduced the idea of turning the “local” public library into a profitable endeavor by a for-profit corporation. As the Escondido City Council looks to be fiscally responsible, they decided to at least look into the proposition. The 4% of the Escondido budget that covers library spending is miniscule.

The regularly-held meeting of the Escondido Library Board of Trustees is taking a look at closing down the Escondido Public Library as we know it. Their job is to assess the plan and then make a recommendation to the Escondido City Council. The meeting today was a very important step – getting feedback from the community. However, there was no community-wide call to come and give feedback. It was a very carefully-held secret about this plan until some concerned citizens exposed it and let the community gather. What a success! About 200 people attended. Of the fifteen or more public speakers, not one supported giving the public library over to the for-profit company. Several mentioned another idea as a workable plan – to join the San Diego County library system.

LS&S is a for-profit corporation that would take over library management. According to its website, “Three decades ago, Library Systems & Services introduced an operational methodology that enhanced the capabilities of libraries and has kept them on the leading edge of information science.” After their 30 years, they have over 80 libraries, with 36 of them in Riverside County. One of the stated goals on their website is to have at least one library in each state. That seems like a modest goal.

The Agenda included a presentation by two representatives of LS&S, and then questions from the Library Board of Trustees.

After that, community members requested time to speak for the 2 minutes allowed.

The presentation by the LS&S representatives was vague, and oral. There were no facts, pictures, or data upon which to make any judgment. I felt like I was listening to a used car salesman who preferred not to get down to basics. City Manager Epps mentioned how “nice” the people were, and how friendly. Aren’t we all?

Both of the representatives had Library Science or education backgrounds. Ed Garnet, the primary speaker, mentioned that the libraries in Riverside had over one thousand employees and that 140 of them had MLS degrees.

Five problems with the
presentation and plan

 

1. Epps went on to say that all current employees of the Library would have jobs, but would not be part of the PERS (Public Employees’ Retirement System) any longer. Mr. Epps said that would save money. They would keep their current salary.

2. Mr. Epps also mentioned that one way they save money is by buying in bulk so that they can negotiate better prices.

3.A third problematic statement was that their contract life lasts five years. Every five years, the contract would be re-negotiated.

4.Epps stated that they would “protect local jobs and tax dollars.”

5. And finally, the LS&S company is for-profit.

As usual, our local City Councilwoman, Olga Diaz, was eloquent in her support of our current library. She has always been a fierce advocate for protecting our community and creating a rich lifestyle. We need to be sure to get her more support on the City Council. All of our local elected officials need to remember WE VOTED THEM IN. We are their constituents. They work for us. They need to make good decisions for us.

The community speakers addressed these issues and more. PERS is a benefit that allows the Library to hire the best and the brightest people and keep them. Escondido has the City Manager and the City Attorney in PERS, and Hiring the best Library staff is no different. Also, employees negotiate for their PERS retirement and often take less salary, knowing that they are putting away their PERS for retirement. They can’t get Social Security since they don’t contribute to it. PERS is the retirement income they count on.

Mr. Epps said that LS&S could buy books in bulk. In our diverse community, it may be that the books bought in bulk would not fit our community. We don’t want them determining which books we read because of some discount. We don’t want them deciding which books we have in our public library.

In a competitive environment, often one store or company will sell product cheaply to undercut the competition. Then, when the other company has gone out of business, they raise the prices. There is no longer a competitor. What happens if we buy into a contract with them and dismantle our public library? There is no going back to a public library. They have us over a barrel. There is no going back. Every five years, you can count on them wanting more return on their investment.

Epps mentioned that the jobs would stay here. We already have the jobs here. He said that the tax dollars would stay here. But, LS&S would take the profits back to their headquarters in Maryland. We would lose good solid jobs with good benefits, and the money – the profit – would go elsewhere.

They are a for-profit organization. Whether they cut the services like the chess club and the Literacy Program, or other parts of the library today, or in five years, or in ten, their goal is profit, not education.

Some of the eloquent speakers made such important points. First of all, we all witnessed the closure of the East Valley Branch of the Escondido Public Library. Everything had been decided about closing the poor peoples’ library – where 70,000 visits took place each year. We didn’t find out about the behind-the-scenes shenanigans soon enough. This time, we will not let that happen!

Many of us think there has already been some sort of agreement with City Government officials to rob us of this public library as well. One speaker said, “I can’t believe that LS&S cares more about my library than I do.” He didn’t buy their logic. Many of the speakers referred back to the way the East Valley Branch of the library was quickly and permanently closed, with Mayor Abed helping to shelve the last of the books and generously give the site to his friend who owns the Escondido Charter High Schools. We do not have trust that our needs and our valuable city asset, our PUBLIC LIBRARY, will be protected. It wasn’t before.

Libraries are the great equalizers. Many students and teachers talked about how the library had made the difference in their education – a place to study, a resource to count on, a sacred building with rich and knowledgeable employees.

A friend wrote to me that “profit for a library is the constant checking out of books.” That is a successful library, not one that pays the salary of an administrator who doesn’t live in our city or care about our quality of life.

Libraries cannot simply be viewed as an item on a profit and loss statement. The very being of a library adds richness to our community, to every community.
My own life-time love for libraries started when I was a young child and spent my summers and weekends reading every book I could find, from Nancy Drew to the classics. A highlight in my life was when I went back to my very same community library, as an author this time. I was able to share my love of that library and my path to become an author. That library was one of the building blocks of my earliest years. We have to preserve free and public libraries for our community. Libraries can and should be run efficiently, and managed well.

The profitability of a library is an offensive concept! Save and preserve our wonderful library.

Laura Johnston Kohl, a bilingual educator, author, and long-time activist who lives in North County. She is an advocate of human and civil rights and works to protect these rights locally and nationally.

Opinions expressed in Alianza North County are those of the individuals expressing them and not of the publishers.

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