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Richard Rider

Privatize library services. It works. Just ask Riverside County.

In 2009 I wrote a controversial piece about privatizing library services.  Well, it was controversial for public employee librarians and their fans.  But it’s not just some unproven theory — it’s been done, and done well.

Riverside County has a 35 branch system.  In 1996 the county contracted out the OPERATION of the libraries to Library Systems and Services, LLC (LSSI), a private company that provides this service nationwide to public libraries.  The county retained title to the buildings and grounds.  At that time, the county was in financial difficulties, so it sought an alternative to its problem-plagued library system.

The county paid LSSI the same operating budget it was paying for the government run library system.  The result was substantially more library hours, more programs, bigger book budgets and FAR fewer customer complaints.

While LSSI guaranteed to hire the same staff at the same salaries, it reduced the benefits package to private sector standards.  Moreover, the employees were then “at will” workers — subject to the same performance standards as are the norm in the private sector.  Here’s a current link to the LSSI summary of the Riverside County library operation:

BTW, Riverside County is not some backwater Hazzard County.  The county library system serves over one million people in 13 cities — an area about the size of the state of Massachusetts.

One benefit to the county was not fully appreciated in 1996, but became starkly apparent later.  NO UNFUNDED LIABILITIES.

If the county had continued to run the libraries with government workers, that would have only added to the county’s pension shortfall and retiree health care funding problems.  Shortly after the turnover of the library system to LSSI, RETROACTIVE public pension increases were mindlessly given away across the state, putting just about EVERY government agency in a financial hole of unknown depth.  With LSSI assuming responsibility for the employee benefits, this problem went away for that department.

Indeed, DISCHARGING public employees from the government payrolls is the ONLY viable option to quickly cap and eventually end the endemic unfunded liability problems.  We need to privatize every possible government function.

Here’s a recent article on this LSSI option, written by the U-T’s Steven Greenhut:


Libraries offer path to stretch dollars

Local outsourcing efforts could be emulated at state level

Aug. 19, 2015

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders are using the special session to consider higher taxes to deal with the state’s infrastructure needs, yet they seem uninterested in measures to stretch the budget through cost-saving reforms. There may be other options than higher taxes or fewer services.

One of the most promising ideas is outsourcing public services to private firms. The politically powerful unions that represent public employees oppose such proposals, but state officials who are open to the idea could turn to local governments to see the potential.

In particular, some library systems have been saving money and offering expanded library hours and services after handing their operations over to a Maryland-based firm known as Library Systems & Services. The company has been running Riverside County’s library system since 1997. It operates libraries across the state, in places such as Santa Clarita, Redding and Upland.

Libraries are not transportation infrastructure — but similar principles apply, and indeed contracting out is hardly a new idea when it comes to building and maintaining the state’s freeways, bridges and streets.

The latest battleground is Kern County, where declining oil revenues (and other factors) have strapped local budgets. A recent “assessment” report points to some challenges at the Kern library system. Branches are open on average fewer than 30 hours a week. No branch is open on Sunday, or past 7 p.m. during the week — prime times for families to visit libraries.

Many branches only are open a few days a week. Many branches lack Wi-Fi. As a result, library visits in the county are far below statewide averages. The vast majority of the budget (78 percent) goes to salary and benefits. The proposed plan for a public-private partnership is not designed to save money — but to provide better services for the same cost.

. . .

To read the rest of the article, go to the U-T link.


Here’s an article/press release I wrote about this in 2009.  While the links are outdated, the facts and logic remain valid today.

San Diego Tax Fighters

**** Press Release ****

Authored by Richard Rider, Chairman

Phone:  858-530-3027

12 August, 2009

Time to Think Outside the Library Box

San Diego County has a number of public library systems open to the general public.  Two operations are quite large – the San Diego County and San Diego City libraries.  In addition, the cities of Carlsbad, Chula Vista, Oceanside, Coronado, Escondido and National City each have their own library systems.

Without exception, each jurisdiction’s library department has become a swelling financial drain on taxpayers.  A byproduct has been the reduction of the hours of operation.  This expanding cost – reflecting primarily the mushrooming compensation packages for public library employees – has been a growing problem in good times.  During this recession, it’s become a much bigger problem.

It’s time to consider an alternative way of delivering library services.  There is a company – LSSI – that operates public and private libraries.  They improve the service, hours of operation and customer satisfaction.  And they do it for less cost.

I’m not talking about selling off the libraries.  Normally the government contracting with LSSI still owns the buildings and materials.  But LSSI takes over the operation of the library, meeting the criteria set by the government.

One does not have to go far to see how well this alternative works.  In 1996 Riverside County was facing operational difficulties, and so it contracted with LSSI to run their (current) 35 branch libraries and two bookmobiles.  Coincidentally, that’s the EXACT number of branch libraries and bookmobiles now operated by the San Diego County library system.

The results have been well received in Riverside County – by both patrons and politicians.  Read the summary of this success story below.

The Riverside County Example

Riverside County, California, operates 33 branch libraries and two bookmobiles serving a high growth population approaching 1 million residents in 13 cities across an area approximately the size of Massachusetts.

For more than 80 years, Riverside County contracted with the City of Riverside for library services. The library system was administered by a city-appointed Board of Library Trustees, all City of Riverside residents.

When a state mandated shift of property taxes resulted in funding reductions affecting the county libraries in the mid ‘90s, the individual cities and Riverside County Board of Supervisors sought more direct control. As a result, in 1996 the City of Riverside did not renew its contract to operate the County Library System and the County had only six months to develop an alternative plan.

The County issued an innovative and ground-breaking RFP seeking optimal library services within an established budget. After a comprehensive selection process, LSSI was selected to operate the County Library System. Riverside became the first library system in the nation to outsource its library operations to a private firm.

Through careful monitoring and control of the contract process, LSSI and the County have been able to increase library services without changing funding sources, increased taxes or additional fees. All former library system employees found positions for the same base pay rate and retained vacation time and accruals.

Key operational benefits in Riverside County of the LSSI managed system include:

·         Expansion of the library system from 24 to 33 library sites

·         Expansion of local employment opportunities from 119 local employees to 193

·         More than doubling of total weekly hours of operation from 618 hrs/wk to 1380 hrs/wk

·         Increase of book budget allocation from $180K to $1.95M. $5M in additional grant funding

·         Automation partnership with San Bernardino County, greatly increasing circulation access

·         Development of early literacy program

·         Establishment of ESL classes to meet community requirement

·         Development of Latino outreach program, “Leer es triunfar” (Reading is succeeding)

·         Winner of a 2005 John Cotton Dana Library Award


If our politicians ever decide that our cities and counties are supposed to be run for the public rather than for the public EMPLOYEES, we can start pursuing alternative methods of delivering government services – such as LSSI.  Since our local governments are running out of financial alternatives, perhaps that time is close upon us.  We certainly hope that such is the case.

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