Taking The 'Public' Out Of The Public Library

<p>The public library system in Jackson County, Oregon, is part of a growing trend: outsourcing and privatizing public services.</p>
October 6, 2007, 1pm PDT | Michael Dudley
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"For years, state and local governments have been privatizing certain functions, such as trash collection, payroll processing and road maintenance.

But contracting with an outside company to run a library is a relatively new phenomenon. It has been gaining in popularity as communities look for ways to save money.

The practice has generated a backlash from those who argue that municipalities are employing a backdoor method of union-busting, and those who say that such profit-making ventures go against the notion that libraries are one of the noblest functions of government in a democracy.

Most of the 15 or so U.S. municipalities that have outsourced their libraries have signed on with Library Systems, which is the biggest player in the field but is privately held and does not disclose earnings.

Jackson County's contract with Library Systems will be worth around $3 million a year; the county also will budget $1.3 million to maintain the buildings. That is about half the $8 million a year the county previously spent on its libraries.

However, the libraries will be open only 24 hours a week, compared with 40-plus hours for most branches before the shutdown."

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Published on Thursday, October 4, 2007 in The Kansas City Star
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