The New York Times has a story about the terrible menace of outsourcing the administration of public libraries. Just how horrifying is it all? A private company figures it can save Santa Clarita, California $1 million a year running the city's three library branches. The sons of bitches!
"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 L.S.S.I., 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.
"A lot of libraries are atrocious," Mr. Pezzanite said. "Their policies are all about job security. That's why the profession is nervous about us. You can go to a library for 35 years and never have to do anything and then have your retirement. We're not running our company that way. You come to us, you're going to have to work."
As someone who absolutely loved my hometown library (when the nearest bookstore, a crappy Waldenbooks, was 12 miles away) and worked as a part-time page at Middletown, New Jersey's main branch library on good ol' New Monmouth Road some 30 years ago, my personal testimony's relevance is limited. But I can tell you that I never met a bunch of lazier workers than I did at that cushy, air-conditioned pleasure-dome (and I've worked a lot of different shit gigs, including heavily unionized ones). I can only imagine the spark of terror Mr. Pezzanite (if that is his real name) must send through the spines of municipal library workers around this sweet land of liberty.
And I can understand why they fight against the outsourcing of their jobs. But you know what? Governments are supposed to be service providers, not jobs programs. The government is supposed to provide for the public, not milk it dry. And when push comes to shove, and the only way to maintain current public-employee compensation levels is to cut services and jack up taxes to pay for higher-than-the-private-sector salaries and benefits, it's time to say goodnight, Gracie.
The coming war between the private sector and the public sector approacheth and ask yourself whether you want to have enough disposable income to fund your own health care and retirement or do you want to pay more in taxes to make sure that public sector workers who make more than you can retire younger and in Cadillac style?
Back to the books: Just this spring, my current hometown and home county (Oxford, Ohio in Butler County) passed a new tax to fund the county library system. The property tax will kick $25 per $100,000 home value to the system, raising about $2.5 million in order to … restore some cuts in hours due to earlier state cutbacks in aid. Stunningly to my small-government, Taxed-Enough-Already mind-set, the levy (which supporters kept boasting was the library system's first request in "144 years," as if the thing wasn't always funded by taxes) passed by a 2-to-1 margin in this crappy economy. Clearly, more people are renting the DVDs than trolling the economics section. Every Marxist and libertarian will tell you (correctly) that libraries, like musuems, are classic examples of middle- and upper-class theft. They are disproportianately used by wealthier citizens who fund them by taxing the lower orders, all in the name of civilizing the brutes. It's a great scam.
I wish I'd known about L.S.S.I. before the election took place, as their very existence offers up a realistic alternative to the status quo. Imagine getting the same or better service for less money? OK, we expect that in every area of human interaction—with the exception of government.
L.S.S.I. operates libraries in four states and is now the fifth-largest library system in the country. After the cost savings, the best part of a deal like the one Santa Clarita is cutting is that they can change it if it doesn't work out.
Some L.S.S.I. customers have ended their contracts, while in other places, opposition has faded with time. In Redding, Calif., Jim Ceragioli, a board member of the Friends of Shasta County Library, said he initially counted himself among the skeptics.
But he has since changed his mind. "I can't think of anything that's been lost," Mr. Ceragioli said.
The library in Redding has expanded its services and hours. And the volunteers are still showing up — even if their assistance is now aiding a private company. "We volunteer more than ever now," Mr. Ceragioli said.
If they suck at running your library or your streets are now crawling with reference librarians turned hobos, you can kick their sorry ass to the street. That—a potential $1 million in savings—is reason enough to give them and companies like them, a shot. And not just in four states. And not just with libraries.