This article was printed in the Boulder Daily Camera on June 30, 2012.
A recent controversy at the Boulder Public Library concerns choosing architects for a multi-million dollar redesign. Regardless of how this resolves, Boulder’s cash–strapped libraries can preserve funding for improvements by doing what several public library systems have done: outsourcing library operations to a private company.
In 1997, Riverside, California outsourced “the management of day-to-day library operations” to Library Systems & Services, Inc. (LSSI), says a Riverside County report. “LSSI offered employment to all existing library staff,” while preserving base salaries and vacation time.
In the first year, operating costs decreased by more than a million dollars while patrons enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, increased materials budgets, library hours, and community programming. Since 1997 the library tax rate has remained flat.
Patrons in nearby Santa Clarita have a similar experience with LSSI. As the city’s mayor writes, patrons benefit from “increased hours of operation, the addition of $900,000 in new materials and providing for a $300,000 annual increase in the book and media budget.”
In Redding, California, another LSSI customer, the city’s community services director says residents enjoy “better service, more convenient hours, new technology, clean facilities, courteous staff, and programs designed by and for their communities.”
Indeed, the Boulder Library Commission has considered outsourcing library operations – but to a new government entity “that would raise property taxes,” reported the Camera in 2010. Given LSSI’s record of using tax dollars efficiently, the Commission should instead give private firms a chance and taxpayers a break.*
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Thanks to Harris Kenny at the Reason Foundation for pointers. And check out the recent article about privatization in the Wall Street Journal, which he co-authored: Look Who’s Embracing Privatization—Big City Democrats.
* Of course, the best way to give taxpayers a break is to privatize not just the library operations, but the funding. Libraries should be funded with voluntary donations rather than forced donations through taxes.