A private company 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. 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, reports the New York Times. A $4 million deal to run the three libraries in Santa Clarita, Calif., is a chance for the company, Library Systems & Services, 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, 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? “There’s this American flag, apple pie thing about libraries,” said Frank A. Pezzanite, the outsourcing company’s chief executive. He has pledged to save $1 million a year in Santa Clarita, mainly by cutting overhead and replacing unionized employees. “Somehow they have been put in the category of a sacred organization.” The company, known as LSSI, runs 14 library systems operating 63 locations. Its basic pitch to cities is that it fixes broken libraries—more often than not by cleaning house. Library employees are furious about the contract, but the reaction has been mostly led by patrons who say they cannot imagine Santa Clarita with libraries run for profit. “A library is the heart of the community,” said one opponent, Jane Hanson. “I’m in favor of private enterprise, but I can’t feel comfortable with what the city is doing here…”

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About the Author:

Denny Carter

Dennis has covered higher education technology since April 2008, having interviewed some of the most recognized IT pros in U.S. colleges and universities. He is always updating eCampus News with the latest in pressing ed-tech issues, such as the growing i


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