Other Voices: Misinformation still circulating about Library Systems & Services | TheUnion.com

Other Voices: Misinformation still circulating about Library Systems & Services

I have read with interest the continuing dialog about LSSI in the Nevada County press and so I welcome this opportunity to address some misinformation and misconceptions that have persisted.

Since 1997, Library Systems & Services, LLC (LSSI) has been in the business of helping communities keep their libraries open, while expanding operating hours and programming, and opening new branches.

In the 13 years that have ensued, we have entered into contracts with 20 different communities, including five counties. Thirteen of these communities continue to contract with LSSI; the Riverside County Library System will soon begin its 14th year of outsourced operations.

In seven of LSSI’s contracts, operational control was transferred back to the local authority. But in all cases, these contracts continued for terms of two to nine years under LSSI’s operation.

The public libraries operated by LSSI have not just survived, they have thrived! They remain the property of the taxpayers and are proof that public/private partnerships can work.

Citizens have speculated about the effect of a private business on censorship in the library. LSSI is, in fact, deeply committed to the cause of intellectual freedom and non-partisanship. LSSI’s first vice president of Public Library Operations, Gordon Conable, was a multiple-term president of the Freedom to Read Foundation during his employment with LSSI. Throughout his career he worked tirelessly to protect the rights of readers and he opposed censorship of any kind.

Following Mr. Conable’s sudden death in 2004, LSSI established the Public Library Association’s annual Gordon M. Conable Award to honor his memory and acknowledge LSSI’s continuing commitment to the principles of intellectual freedom.

LSSI’s operations team and its staff members are deeply committed to these principles. Many LSSI staff members have participated in various capacities, on library industry committees and organizations furthering the cause of intellectual freedom.

For example, Mark Smith, LSSI’s vice president of Public Library Operations/West, served on the ALA subcommittee on privacy that drafted the first ALA resolution of opposition to the Patriot Act.

Another concern expressed by Nevada County citizens is an anticipated loss of volunteer hours and donations to the library. Just the opposite has been the case with existing LSSI-operated libraries. We have consistently seen an increase in volunteer hours at most locations. Friends of the Library organizations also continue to play an important role in supporting all LSSI-operated libraries. We anticipate that they will continue to play their important role in Nevada County.

Donations and grants to LSSI-operated libraries are also above average compared to other libraries throughout the country. Our libraries compete very effectively with other libraries for state, local and national grant funds. In Riverside County alone, LSSI has been awarded more than $5 million in grants.

In all cases, 100 percent of all donations and grant funds are used for the benefit of the libraries. LSSI charges no fees of any kind to secure or manage these funds.

Here’s a quick recap of some of the benefits of LSSI’s proposal to Nevada County:

• Increase library operating hours by as much as 40 percent

• Invest $130,000 in library facility enhancement

• Hire a commercial courier service to expedite inter-library loans

• Enhance library programming for children and young adults

• Rebuild the library’s reserve fund to higher levels than the other operating options

under consideration

• Significantly expand career development and training for library staff members

We’ll accomplish all of this without increasing the percentage of the 1998 library sales tax initiative, dipping into the library’s or county’s reserve funds, or charging citizens any fees for using the library.

We have already proven our ability to do this in other communities.

In 2000, the American Library Association commissioned an independent study of library outsourcing and privatization. With regard to outsourced library management the study concluded:

“In general, there is no evidence that outsourcing per se has had a negative impact on library services and management. On the contrary, in the main outsourcing has been an effective managerial tool, and when used carefully and judiciously it has resulted in enhanced library services and improved library management.”

The study (Robert S. Martin, et al. The Impact of Outsourcing and Privatization on Library Services and Management. Chicago: American Library Association, 2000), can be viewed in its entirety at: tinyurl.com/ygqhpze.

We encourage all concerned residents to read the FAQ prepared by the county addressing the implications of a public-private partnership. It is posted online at http://www.mynevadacounty.com.

Frank A. Pezzanite is CEO and co-founder of Library Systems & Services, LLC and an active member of the American Library Association.

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