Posted by: JanF | March 10, 2011

Booking a profit

Today’s post turns out to be more of the same: Just when we think there is something new under the sun, it turns out to be Not New At All.

I was going to look at the issue of privatizing libraries. It was an issue I had seen in the news and seemed to be something that I could unleash my Googles on, find out more about and share here.

The issue would seem to be “Can a for-profit company run libraries in a way that preserves the mission of the community library and allow municipalities to save money?”.

A most excellent issue because first, we would want to keep our public libraries, right? If the option is that cities and towns have to close their libraries because they need to save money, heck, let’s try to save some money!

It turns out that the way the money is saved is the same familiar tune that the one-note-johnny Republicans have been singing for years.

I knew I was going to get itchy when I found this quote from the owner of the company which controls most of the library business, LSSI :

“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.”

Let that sink in for a minute. A comment dripping with unveiled contempt for libraries and those who love them coming from the guy who is now in charge of those same libraries. 😦

Why, yes, Mr. Pezzanite, we do get all mushy about libraries because of their long history of being a place where people could get information without censorship. Where you did not need to be wealthy to have access to books. Where you could better yourself by learning from the enormous reservoir of material available as the printed word. We got all mushy about libraries and librarians when they pushed back against the clause in the PATRIOT Act that said they had to report which books their patrons had taken out or even looked at.

But look! You distracted me and on this I will not be distracted. It is too important.

Here is what else I saw in your comments. Your three-fold privatization model:
– Pay as little as possible for workers
– Provide as few services as possible
– Charge as much as possible for those services

We start, of course, by replacing union workers with non-unionized workers who get no benefits because those pesky humans and their pesky needs so irritates private businesses.

Since I do not want to have Googled in vain, here are a few links I found for you to chew on: news of opposition in California, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners comprehensive report on privatization (PDF with links), an editorial and a different perspective with some pros and cons.

None of this matters, though, because the issue is not “library privatization”.

It is about feeding the privatization beast by moving more and more of our government services to the private sector and allowing that private sector to kill union jobs and, in the long term, reduce services they deem “not profitable”. When people who use Internet services on computers in libraries have to pay special fees what have we really preserved?

Maybe the only thing we will have preserved is the right for big corporations to make big bucks.

The time for pushback is now, before it is too late.

Please, do not feed the beast.

(Brought to you by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU))

(A version of this was originally posted on 03/10/2011 at BPI Campus)



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