Outsourcing Libraries

Chronicles of Dissent points to this troubling story of a county in Oregon that is outsourcing the operation of their (formerly public) libraries to Library Systems and Services (LSSI), a private, for-profit company. LSSI tries to downplay any affect privitizing the institution of the library might have:

“The average citizen, when they walk into the library, they will see well-trained, well-educated, customer-service-oriented people working in the library,” said Bob Windrow, director of sales and marketing at Germantown, Md-based Library Systems and Services, or LSSI, the company taking over. “They won’t know who is paying their salary, and they won’t care. They care whether the library is open adequate hours, and are they getting good service.”

Mr. Windrow seems to hope that all people want from a library is “adequate hours” and “good service.” He ignores, at least in this statement, the long tradition of the American library as the nation’s most basic First Amendment institution, serving as a primary resource for the intellectual freedom required for the preservation of free society and a creative culture. Historically, libraries have thrived as spheres of intellectual freedom, protecting patrons’ rights to read, watch, or listen to material of their choice without supervision or restraint from public officials, public opinion, institutional repression, private groups, or individuals.

Will LSSI preserve this heritage? Will they pledge and adhere to the American Library Association’s code of ethics, bill of rights, and core values, including their commitment to protecting patron privacy and standing in opposition to the USA PATRIOT Act?

I hope so.

UPDATE: Chronicles of Dissent has a follow-up post reporting on information they received from LSSI:

According to Windrow, when LSSI contracts to provide services, they do not control or own the library’s assets and they do not set the policies of how the library operates. Whatever the library’s existing privacy policies are, that is what LSSI will implement. In many cases, LSSI hires the library’s existing personnel, who are already trained in and familiar with privacy policies and state privacy laws. If LSSI brings in additional personnel, they arrange to have them trained in the privacy policies and procedures.

If this is the outsourcing model they adhere to, it helps calm some of my fears about the preservation of the intellectual freedoms traditionally protected by our nation’s public libraries.

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