Reason Writers Around Town: California Aims to Prevent Private Libraries

In today's Orange County Register, Reason Foundation Policy Analyst Harris Kenny writes:

Apparently, the folks in Sacramento believe that cities looking for ways to reduce expenses are better off with no libraries at all than with privately operated libraries.

Assembly Bill 438, sponsored by Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk because Democrats in Sacramento voted to control local decisions and prevent cities from making choices about what is best for their own libraries.

The bill represents a dramatic overreach by Sacramento into local communities. Via AB438 the Legislature mandates that cities choosing to privatize are not allowed to reduce the size of their library staffs. Further, the bill mandates that every single current library employee must keep his or her job in any future public-private partnership agreement, which explains why powerful unions have been pushing the bill. Cities will also be forced to spend time and money preparing and submitting studies and reports to Sacramento in order to obtain the state’s permission to privatize.

“We hope the governor will veto the bill, since he has talked a lot about the importance of retaining local authority,” said Dan Carrigg of the League of California Cities.

California has been a national leader in partnering with the private sector to operate libraries. In fact, the first-ever public-private partnership between a local government and private operator was signed in 1997 between Riverside County and Library Systems & Services Inc. and this agreement is still in place today.

How did that work out?

In June 2010, Riverside County published a report highlighting the results of their 13-year partnership with LSSI. The study found taxpayers have enjoyed better services with longer operating hours. Staffing has more than doubled. The number of open library branches increased from 24 to 33 and more than $15 million was invested in new facilities or major renovations. 

The full column is here.

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  • Govco||

    As long as people are allowed to read...

  • ||

    Cities will also be forced to spend time and money preparing and submitting studies and reports to Sacramento in order to obtain the state’s permission to privatize.

    Fending off anarchy, one report at a time.

  • ||

    Of course they don't want private options. First, they might operate better than the public variety--can't have that!

    Second, state and local governments love, love, love to withhold funding of programs that get public attention, to justify tax increases or other things to increase revenues. Almost the very first thing my county cut as part of its "austerity" program was library services and hours. It's total, transparent bullshit.

  • robc||

    My city tried to raise the employment tax solely (supposedly) for the libraries.

    Of course, was the tax going to go away when the library restoration was done? No.

    It was voted down by huge margins, thankfully.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Cities will also be forced to spend time and money preparing and submitting studies and reports to Sacramento in order to obtain the state’s permission to privatize.

    Studies are what separate us from the animals.

  • think of the children!||

    people are bad so we need a government made up of people are bad so we need a government made of people are bad so we need a government made of people are bad so we need a government made of people ...

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Public libraries in California serve de facto as homeless daycare centers. Privatizing them would drive the homeless into the streets.

  • GSL||

    Of course Sacramento has no intention of letting cities privatize their libraries. First, it would likely mean losing government jobs, and they have no intention of abetting that. And second, if you let cities take actions to save money, you're undercutting your broader plan to extort higher taxes out of the middle class by starving cities of public safety funds.

  • Robert||

    Sometimes you gotta make a deal.

  • ||

    That's not a ban on private libraries. It's a ban (or restriction) on hiring private companies to manage public libraries. It may be a bad idea, and I'm not opposed to the government hiring private companies to manage public resources, but that does not make it a private library. The library managers will still be paid with tax dollars.

    Private libraries do exist, but this article is all about public libraries, and has nothing to do with private libraries.

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