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:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Adams (Richard). <i>Watership Down,</i> FIRST EDITION, author inscription on front free end paper, folded map tipped in, original boards, dust-jacket. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bowles (John). <i>Several Prospects of the Most…la Ville de Londres, avec des Remarques Historiques fort Succinctes, qui les Regardant,</i> 20 double page engraved plates only, of 23, 1724. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Auden (W.H.). <i>Our Hunting Fathers,</i> FIRST SEPARATE EDITION, 1 of 22 copies, COPY B OF 5 PRINTED ON NORMANDIE, original patterned wrappers, Cambridge, for Frederic Prokosch, 1935. £800 to £1200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Barrie (J. M.) & Attwell (Mabel Lucie, illustrator). <i>Peter Pan & Wendy,</i> FIRST EDITION, 12 chromolithograph plates, publisher's blue cloth, original printed dust jacket, [c.1920]; and 3 others (4). £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bartolozzi (Francesco). Genius Calling Forth the Fine Arts to Adorn Manufactures and Commerce; Agriculture (Husbandry Aided by Arts and Commerce), glazed and framed. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> A collection of engraved caricatures, including Gillray ([James]) Tales of Wonder!, 1802; Rowlandson (Thomas) Sports, Smock Racing, 1811;Irish Jaunting Carr, 1814. £400 to £600
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bennett (Charles H, illustrator). <i>Æsop’s Fables,</i> 1875; Buchanan (Robert). <i>Ballad Stories of the Affections,</i> [1866]; Douce (Francis), The Dance of Death, 1833. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Chinese Illustrations. A group of 6 Cantonese rice paper illustrations, depicting scenes of torture with different instruments, gouache, c.340 x 220mm, original wrapper boards preserved, [c. 1800]. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Dulac (Edmund). <i>The Queen of Romania, The Dreamer of Dreams,</i> 5 coloured plates, [1915]; and others illustrated by Edmund Dulac. £300 to £400
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Fronth (Per). Xingu Chronicles, the portfolio, comprising 30 plates, photogravues in colours, each signed, dated and titled in pencil, each numbered 10/35, on wove paper, 790 x 600 x 60mm, 1997. £300 to £400
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Pasternak (Boris). <i>Doctor Zhivago,</i> FIRST ENGLISH EDITION, original red publisher’s cloth, pictorial dust jacket, 4to, Collins & Harvill Press, 1958. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> 13 sepia photographs of visitors to the Thermes Nationaux d’Aix-les-Bains, c. 150 x 105mm, c.1890 (12). £300 to £400
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <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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