Escondido library to be run by Maryland company

Critic notes contract increases annually; council votes to save money

Escondido Library

239 South Kalmia Street, Escondido

On October 18th, dozens of Escondido residents rallied one last time to keep their public library from being outsourced to an East Coast company. The library belongs to the community, they told the city council; it should not be run by spreadsheet. But in the end, cost-cutting won out, 4-1.

"We're not going to outsource our police or fire," said mayor Sam Abed. The city expects to save $400,000 annually, with "at least half a million in pensions," Abed said. "We must do this to be a financially viable city."

The vote affirms a ten-year contract with Maryland-based Library Systems & Services. The proposal was first presented months ago as a five-year term, and has been strongly opposed all along.

"The contract rate steadily increases each year," said resident Liz White at the meeting. "No wonder it went from five to a whopping ten-year term." White mentioned a scathing performance report by an Oregon county, where she said the company was taking 30 to 35 percent profit.

Councilmember Michael Morasco said the longer-term contract will save the city money: 4 percent vs. 3 percent. Library advocates fear major staff and service cuts and a collection not up to par. The outsourcing is opposed by the Escondido Library Board of Trustees, Library Foundation, and American Library Association.

Councilmember Ed Gallo said the library board of trustees, which has input on the contract, will still have oversight on books. As for job losses, city officials said there are no employment guarantees for current library employees, but the company has agreed to hire the current workers at the same wages. One speaker suggested that could change, saying she looked up the jobs at Library Systems & Services and found that in three months the jobs can be cut to minimum wage. "This is not what I pay my taxes for."

Resident Heidi Paul said the council "has a problem getting that a library isn't just a repository for books. Where on the contract does it mention writer's groups and all the various amenities of a public library? When LS&S offers these amenities, they do it for a price."

Councilmember Olga Diaz had concerns about details not being clearly spelled out in the terms. "When there's additional work, would it come with price tag?" And who would review or approve it?

City attorney Michael McGuinness said the company is allowed to subcontract some services, like janitorial. "It's performance-driven." As some on the council argued, many cities have satisfactory contracts with Library Systems & Services. And if things don't work out, the city can end the contract due to material breach; failure to appropriate funds; or by a Calpers determination. Termination could occur 60 days after notice.

In addition, the company's records pertaining to city business can be audited and their work must be satisfactorily performed without volunteers.

The city has been threatened with litigation. White said she and other advocates had met with attorney Corey Briggs the night before the meeting. They claim that outsourcing a contract for library management violated state law; the city counters that the law doesn't support the claim that the library board of trustees had sole and exclusive right to manage the library.

Councilmember John Masson made a pitch for the change of hands: the library will now be open longer, seven days, for a total of 60 hours. They'll be responsible for professional development of staff and diversity of materials. It's Escondido's chance "to create the library of the future."

Diaz made a motion not to approve the contract, which she considered vague and misguided. She said the change would be no improvement over today’s library: “Everything you want in this contract you already have."

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What happens in these transfers to a private entity is that the private company in order to make a profit cuts wages and benefits and reduces services and personnel and other corner cutting methods.

Why do we need to hire people, keep them forever, pay an above-market salary, pay for benefits, and then pay for a lifetime pension to have a library? Why is it that someone who cannot be fired is somehow going to do a better job than someone who can, and therefore must work to keep their job?

I love libraries, but public employment has become a morass that's dragging all of us to the bottom. Every single opportunity to privatize and outsource and reduce the endless, crushing burdens should be seized. Maybe one day we can get back to the model that worked... relatively low pay in exchange for job security and a modest pension. Until then, though, the trough-guzzling has got to be ended. We'll soon wind up with one government employee, the one who signs all the pension checks. We cannot let the past crowd out the present or the future.

Public employees can be fired. They have protections that provide that they have to be fired for cause not just because. People who work for a company or government should have decent pay and benefits. They only thing they have is their time to sell and should not be forced to sell to the lowest bidder. Union contracts are negotiated. If you think that union workers are paid too much or their benefits are too rich then blame the negotiators on the management side. It seems that you would like to see people work until the employer decides that they are too old or whatever and then just dump them on the streets. The retail/hotel/restaurant industries and insuring future poverty by not providing decent wages, benefits and pensions. Sad that so many people think like you.

Libraries are an essential part of community. Like bars and coffeehouses, but with a different clientele. Students, housewives, seniors and now the homeless savor the resources at libraries. It's not just books, videos and internet terminals; it's guidance and wisdom.

America's unsung heroes are librarians. Few people realize how important they have been in defending free speech. People in power don't like certain books that are critical of their activities, but librarians have kept them available to us, along with sex education and other material that certain religious extremists would ban.

But there has been an equally important activity going on behind the scenes. Some politicians, and their appointed law enforcement lackeys, would like to know what books you are reading, what web sites you are visiting. Any subversive materials? Anti Republican/Democrat? Black Lives Matter? They want to be able to search everyone's reading material without a warrant. Librarians have quietly but forcefully resisted this invasion of our privacy.

Would a minimum wage librarian, working for a greedy corporation, be of such a proud American heritage? Would loyalty to community and country be the same?

In case you aren't a library goer, and you are concerned about exorbitant payroll expense, you should visit your library. You'll find many or most of the workers are unpaid volunteers. Where will these volunteers go when the library becomes another corporate monstrosity, managed by distant overseers?

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