Thursday, August 16, 2007

There is a county in Oregon that closed all of its libraries at the start of summer due to lack of funding. Jackson County has since been looking for ways to reopen the libraries (I never did see where the funding would be coming from, but evidently they have found a source or two). They put the operation of the libraries up for bid, and want to go to the lowest bidder. Two organizations bid - one was the local government employee union, the other was LSSI, whose motto is "Partnering with communities to build better libraries" An update of where this story stands can be read here: .
My question: if it is so much cheaper to outsource the library and the service remains the same or better, why doesn't everyone do it to all county/city services? Why would a county/city even consider keeping on the cost of a fire department, police department, streets department, etc., if they could outsource it for cheaper and get the same or better service? (And pardon my ignorance if this is actually what all counties ARE considering! I might be just catching up to the world on this topic.) From the newspaper story, it appears that the library bids that were submitted met the objectives specified by the county as far as services go. The librarian that was leading the effort to reopen the libraries has left or is leaving for a new job, so no librarian has reviewed the bids (as far as I know). Will libraries of all kinds more likely to be outsourced in the future, much like the military base libraries did in the 80's and 90's (and are still doing)? What exactly makes up the difference in cost between a library that is run by an organization like LSSI, and one that is run by a local government or even an academic unit? Does one cover more human resource-type costs and the other not? For example, does one cover retirement and health insurance, and the other not? Did the Jackson County library system really have so much sloppiness in their budget that LSSI is able to come in and offer the same level of service for 30 percent cheaper cost, with only a 3 percent inflation rate over the next few years? If so, where does that put all the other county and city library budgets? From what I have seen in the Midwest, there usually isn't too much to cut in any library budget, particularly when facing staggering increases in electronic information resources and human resource-related costs.
If LSSI is offering a cost-effective management service for libraries, and hires professional librarians to run things, I say more power to them. Let them get in there and show folks how it should be done! From their Open Jobs list, it looks like they are doing well and looking to hire. If LSSI's mission is to truly offer same or better service, a library director could experience better communication for new library programs with their higher-ups, since LSSI would more likely understand library operation needs and innovations than a city council or county board. I haven't seen a Special Interest Group in library associations for 'contracted-out libraries', but if you are a director or librarian in a contract library, I would really like to hear from you about your experiences! Just email teresa.hartman (at) and let me know how things run in your world, and if you think this is the way everyone in the library world is going to be going.

No comments: