Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2010 Issue

Local Group Fights Privatization of Their Library

Lssi

LSSI may be offering rewarding jobs, but not unionized ones.


By Michael Stillman

A group of citizens from Santa Clarita, California, is fighting back against the city's plan to turn operation of its public library over to a private corporation. Santa Clarita's plan has stirred passions throughout the land as it could serve as a blueprint for the privatization of public libraries everywhere (see The Executioner's Song in last month's issue of AE Monthly). However, in Santa Clarita, the issue is more personal where a group known as Save Our Library is fighting the city's plan.

In August, the city council announced that management of its libraries would be turned over to Library Systems and Services (LSSI), a Maryland based firm that specializes in operating public libraries. Their services have not always been welcomed by existing librarians and patrons. However, previous cases where they have been called in involved libraries that were in deep financial trouble. Santa Clarita is different in that there was no impending financial crisis when the council chose to turn library management over to LSSI. Presumably, this was seen by them as simply a cost-cutting measure.

Save Our Library sees it differently. According to a lawsuit they recently filed in the California Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles, Santa Clarita will be obligated to pay the County of Los Angeles, which currently operates the libraries, the value of its buildings and personal property (including books) to withdraw from the county system. They see it as a money loser. On the other side, according to an article in the New York Times, LSSI's Chief Executive Officer has pledged to save the city $1 million per year, primarily by replacing unionized employees and cutting overhead. According to the Times article, the CEO expressed a fair amount of disdain for employees of some public libraries, saying policies are all about job security, that employees can go to work for 35 years and never have to do anything, and then get to draw retirement. Anyone employed by LSSI, he said, will have to work. Evidently, he believes many public librarians don't.

The suit filed by Save Our Library also indicated that the City Council threw its plans at the community with little warning. It claims that only a few months ago, it proposed the city take over operation of the library from the county. Then, in August, the Council suddenly announced it would seek a firm to which to outsource its library's operation. However, the group produced evidence that the Council had already been negotiating with LSSI for several months and that the only bid to operate their libraries came from that firm. While this may (or may not) appear unseemly, and LSSI's attitude toward public library employees troubling, depending on your point of view, this suit comes down to an unexpected issue - personal privacy.

In their petition to the court, Save Our Library argues that the California Constitution provides that, among its citizens' inalienable rights, is the right to privacy. They believe that turning over data about what books patrons borrow, what information they access on computer terminals, and other information about them to a private company is a violation of that right to privacy.

They also cite the California Public Records Act which provides, "All registration and circulation records of any library which is in whole or in part supported by public funds shall remain confidential and shall not be disclosed to any person, local agency, or state agency except..." Two of the three exceptions clearly do not apply here - one dealing with the patron him or herself requesting the information, the other under court order. Presumably, the City Council will argue the third exception, that the records can be disclosed to "a person acting within the scope of his or her duties within the administration of the library." One can guess that the City will argue that the private corporation librarians will be acting no differently than do the public librarians today, who are equally covered by this statute. Save Our Library anticipates this argument by saying that putting personal information in the hands of a private corporation "dilutes" the protection. Though the law makes no such distinction, we imagine SOL will point to other personal data, such as social security numbers, tax records and the like to which public authorities have access but that are protected from private eyes. Even if the court finds the exception applies to LSSI, plaintiffs can be expected to still make a vigorous argument on constitutional right to privacy grounds.

Some people may not see privacy as the most important issue here. How important is it to keep your library information private? To this question we can point to heroic attempts by librarians to keep personal records private from federal government investigators who hoped to learn more about its citizens by seeing what books they read. Library privacy is no small matter. Of course, there are other important issues concerning libraries at play in this case, but the plaintiffs cannot argue policy decisions, even bad ones, as they were made by their elected representatives. They are limited to legal wrongs. Still, many see turning over their libraries to for-profit entities, whose primary aim is not to serve the public, but make money for themselves, as being the wrong road for a historically public institution such as a library. It is a place to serve the public, to offer access to knowledge, entertainment, and perhaps social interaction. There are lots of places where such benefits can be obtained from the private sector. Is there no room for one that is operated solely for the benefit of the community?

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <b>Leland Little: Important Spring Auction. March 3, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Copper Printing Plate for "Marshall's Household Engraving of Washington." $500 to $1000
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Important Documentary Painting Showing Baseball Great Ty Cobb in Cuba. $1,000 to $2,000
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> <i>Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age</i>, Inscribed by Bill Wilson. $500 to $1,000
    <b>Leland Little: Important Spring Auction. March 3, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893-1983), <i>Prise à l'hameçon.</i> $3,000 to $6,000
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Maurice Dufrène (French, 1876-1955), <i>Rayon des Soieries</i>. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> William Pope.L (American, b. 1955), <i>Intimacy Project</i>. $2,000 to $4,000
  • <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Collection of 131 Herbert Ponting gelatin silver contact prints of Antartica, £6000-8000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of several lots of Henri Cartier-Bresson gelatin silver prints, £200-300
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Vintage gelatin silver print of Diego Rivera by Leonard McCombe, £300-500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron of Sir John Herschel (April, 1867), £30,000-50,000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron, Love, 1864 (from the Norman album), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Lewis Carroll of Twyford School Eleven (Summer Term, 1859), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Lewis Carroll of Xie Kitchin as 'Dane' (Oxford, 1873), £500-800
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Calotype print (c1845) by Hill & Adamson of Lady Elizabeth (Rigby) Eastlake, £3000-4000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Group of 12 waxed paper negatives of Scottish scenes by Thomas Keith, mid-1850s, £3000-5000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of 15 lots of Roger Fenton salt prints of his work in the Crimea, mid-1850s, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Quarter plate ambrotype (c.1860s) with ethnographic portrait of a woman seated at a table, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Rare whole plate thermoplastic union case of the Landing of Columbus (c.1858),part of the John Hannavy collection, £1500-2000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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