A private operator for Indy-Marion County library?

September 29, 2010
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Just about everything in cities seems fair game for privatization these days. Trash pickup, parking meters. But libraries? That’s different.
The question, explored in a recent New York Times article, is as charged and volatile as you might expect.
Some cities are turning to a Germantown, Md., company to run their libraries to cut costs. The article is pegged on Library Systems & Services’ being contracted for the first time by a healthy city, not one that’s desperate. Library Services says it can cut $1 million from the budget of Santa Clarita, Calif.
In Santa Clarita, as elsewhere, the company consistently runs into an attitude that libraries are too important, too sacrosanct to be outsourced. Employees don’t like it—no surprise there. But some of the fiercest opposition comes from patrons.
Company officials counter that many libraries are poorly operated and exist as much to secure lucrative jobs as to serve the public.
Library Systems cuts costs mostly by slashing overhead and pushing out unionized workers, many of whom have both pensions and 401(k)s—think General Motors restructured.
Asked about the merits or demerits of a for-profit operator, Tom Shevlot, president of the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library board, said he’d never heard of the idea. As a result, he withheld judgment.
Musing hypothetically, Shevlot said the state’s lease of the Indiana Toll Road to a private operator appears to have been a good idea. But libraries aren’t roads, he emphasized. The work is service- and knowledge-based. So he questions whether high levels of service and expertise could be maintained in a system where profit was the motivation.
“You have to look at these things very carefully,” he warned.
The library is certainly under financial strains. The proposed budget it’s presenting to the City-County Council is 5 percent below last year, to $39 million, and includes big cuts in hours of operation, among other things.
What about you? Would you see a private operator as a nightmare, savior or somewhere in between?

  • God help us all
    If you want to see the present library system destroyed then this particular operatior is the one to call on....
  • Administration Calling

    I'm sure then the administration will be calling. Especially if the company hires Joe Loftus.
  • Information for sale
    Back to the days where only the rich can enjoy the library! I knew it would happen, information for sale!
  • Lucrative Jobs?
    Um, I am not sure what fairlyland this author lives in, but "lucrative jobs" and "libraries" do not go hand in hand. I am a librarian and I barely make $50k/year. I am not pulling down $100K+ and huge retirement benefits. Maybe you should look up what library personnel actually makes before tossing out adjectives like "lucrative". What is "lucrative" is the huge payday LSSI will make off of your public tax dollars and funnel them into Maryland...not your local economy.
  • Horrible Idea
    Guess what everyone, privatization is not the answer to all our problems! This may be the worst privatization idea I've heard yet. And the idea that librarians have lucrative jobs is laughable (at least in Indiana).
  • Ummm...
    With all due respect Ingrid, $50,000 as a librarian sounds pretty darned lucrative in todays economy to me. I have friends Masters degrees earning less...
    • Outsource
      As former CEO of the Indianapolis Marion County Public and former employee of LSSI, it would work. LSSI will increase hours and cut costs.
      • Weren't you fired, Linda?
        Ahhhh, Linda. You were fired from your CEO position at IMCPL, you don't work for LSSI anymore and now you work as a "efficiency" consultant. Yet, your "solutions" haven't changed. You hired manager after manager at IMCPL and created the high paying management positions to which the columnist alludes. And you got rid of frontline employees to boot, leaving the library led by a bevy of bosses over a shrinking league of employees. Nice. And now you suggest sending Indiana taxpayer money to Maryland by creating empty buildings and angry patrons who can't get the help they have paid for through taxes. Thanks, the library system here in town drank your kool-aid once. Never again. Oh, and it's kind of sad that you still get Google news alerts for a system that spit you out? This situation they are in is your doing. Enjoying it?
      • What does it profit a man...
        My, but this is odd, Linda Mielke, if it really is you. One day after a story appears in one of the many, many, many cities where you were once employed but did not stay employed, you reply to state that it is a great idea to enrich a private organization you know well with profits taken from the taxpayers of Marion County. I never imagined that a public library should be operated AND have profits taken from it for a private group. How really odd this all is! What a coincidence that you should quickly notice what is being said here!
      • Give it some thought
        Conventional wisdom that for-profit enterprises outperform governmental or not-for-profit enterprises is inherently flawed. Results from for-profit operations are relatively easy to measure. The for-profit enterprise produces and offers for sale goods and services to customers in the usual use of the term. We evaluate for-profit enterprises by calculating return on investment, net profit and other benchmarks familiar to all. The principal objective of a for-profit enterprise is to reward investors.

        Governmental and not-for-profit enterprises are more complex and outcomes are more difficult to measure. Taxpayers or donors comprise one set of customers who pay for services that another set of customers may use. There exist two major objectives, satisfy both those who will use the services and taxpayers or donors.

        With respect to the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library, a contract with Library Systems and Services would unnecessarily add complexity and give a foreign corporation a slice of our local taxes. It would also be an affront to Indiana University and our librarians who have sacrificed to obtain advanced degrees in library science. We may be confident that LSSI would first satisfy its stockholders and then our taxing authorities that fund the contract. Since the outcomes for persons using the library are more difficult to measure, those rewards would surely be the last to be considered.

        The only arrangement with LSSI that one might imagine to be in the best interests of our community would be a limited engagement as a turnaround vehicle in the event of municipal bankruptcy.
      • Bad idea
        Joe's comment above is correct...not for profit and governmental entities have waste, but as he points out...outcomes are much harder to measure...be very careful with this...think of the problems the state had over their contract with IBM over welfare benefits...Gov. Daniels would privatize everything he could, yet he has had to concede that did not work. This is smaller scale, but the principle at work is LSSI would have to be responsible to everyone else before the library patrons and taxpayers who would pay them.
        As for Ingrid...as someone who has hired a few people in the last couple of years, I can assure you that I have met many former $70-100 K per year employees that are now out of work...engineers, very educated, highly skilled technical people, who would give anything now to make $50k, they are applying for entry level positions at $25-30K...$50 K is now, alas, a very good paying job...to say "I barely make $50K" as if that is not very much money shows a misunderstanding of where the labor market is these days...better be glad you have it, a lot of highly skilled people who are out of work would tell you otherwise.
      • Lucrative - Not!! Service - Yes!!
        "Company officials counter that many libraries are poorly operated and exist as much to secure lucrative jobs as to serve the public." Lucrative??-Absurd-as they are certainly not but those who seek to work in libraries do inded do so to serve the public!! And the librarians themselves have advanced educations-Masters Degree in Library Science, which is 2 years shy of a lawyers JD degree.
      • A BALLARD Deal
        I suppose Ballard has some cronie in line to take over the business of information resources (AKA Library). I guess what we face is another Tabloid FOX News enterprise where some wacko decides what information the community will be allowed to have. Furthermore, private libraries were once common in America until Ben Franklin began a public library. Until then, you paid a fee to belong to the library. I can see it now, to have the privilege to read a book, look something up in an encyclopedia, look something up on micorfilm from the newspapers, you will first have to have a paid membership, then pay per item used. The lucrative salaries would indeed be had by the private firm, and those who they employ would be fired at will once they begin to approach any type of benefits (if they are ever offered any in the first place).
        This STINKS of a BALLARD payout for a SPECIAL interest group.
        • Alternative
          Let's privatize the Pacers first and then talk about the libraries.
        • Libraries
          Hey Jim,

          This idea was presented by the author, not the mayor. Oh, I guess you missed that point.


        • ummm, Marshall
          50,000 is not the entry level pay for librarians, no way. That's usually if you're in management, and the fact that librarians have specific Master's degrees on top of that, it's no where near 'lucrative'.
        • is it really Linda?
          if Linda really did post that, she's got some nerve. Maybe if it weren't for her, IMCPL wouldn't be in the financial hurt it's in. Methinks she must be getting a cut from LSSI to recommend them, she, nor anyone else with any idea of libraries would think this would be a good things for library systems and the public they serve.
        • 50K would be niiice
          I'm a librarian complete with MLS and 15+ years of experience and make about 30K. I doubt I would make any more doing my job for a private company.
        • MLS
          Librarians DO have Master's degrees - MLS.
        • Privatization
          Just when you think that it couldn't get worse! The library has already had efficiency experts and has tried numerous cost cutting measures. You only get what you pay for. This private company will take the "public" out of public library. Just look what has happened to the hospitals as most are now for profit companies.
        • Duh
          Dont you know that Librians have a "Masters" in Library Science.
        • Not exactly the opinion we need
          Since this person was TERMINATED from IMCPL for cause and has been a shill for the slash and burn techniques of LSSI for years, she's not exactly a disinterested party.

          What we do know is that when Libraries start playing "corporation" instead of public service we get into trouble. We've got Management who have fancy dancy titles: CEO, COO, CFO, without the requisite skill sets to fit said titles; an Executive committee that would rather play management theory bingo than use the experience and wisdom at their fingertips and create the waste of tens of thousands of dollars spent on outside contractors, management "training" and other useless experiments that have fallen to the wayside over the years. Library Boards who naively think they can handle multi-million dollar contracts w/o guidance.

          These "management" people from LSSI are more carpetbaggers looking to milk gullible "corporatized" Library leaders for their cash. What will be left is a decimated collection, demoralized staff, and a hemorrhage of talent, skills and dedication as the last long term hangers-on flee the Orwellian destruction of our beloved Library.

          Hyperbole? Those who lived through Linda Mielke know the Catch-22 levels of insanity that await the Library staff that chooses LSSI. Without her (and her predecessor to a lesser extent) there would not have been the fear and loathing of management that brought in the Union.
        • Reply to all
          I read all these hearsays, innuendoes, and "chicken little" responses. You all need to check out their website first. They have a "Contact us" if you have questions (which I have). You need to contact libraries who already have this program and ask them what they think of it. The last time I checked, Germantown, MD is not a foreign country. Also, personally attacking someone is no way to resolve this issue.
        • Be careful what you wish for
          Please keep in mind that the U.S. is one of the few countries in the world still where anyone can visit the library free. There are countries out there where only the elite have access to information and resources. At this time, when so much of the country is hurting, it is important that all citizens be able to access information and resources. The public library is one of the keystones of our society and can offer a level playing field to all citizens. This is a time when libraries should be supported and heralded as a central place for all citizens to go too educate, and inform themselves. This is not a time to back on their services or budgets. Librarians are some of the true heroes in our society who offer services beyond and above, even if they are not as highly paid compared to some other professions. If supported properly, they could help navigate our society into brighter times.
        • taxes for libraries
          A long standing, long serving and proven public institution losing funds and bowing 'under the weight of statewide property tax caps' is a disgrace and a disservice to a democratic system. The only ones benefiting from tax caps are the ultra wealthy property owners. This was a scam by the governor and the legislators, who were paid for by the wealthy business owners. The financial strain is solved by taxing those whose profits have broken the backs of retirees and laborers.
        • An idea from Hell
          Privatization of libraries is antithetical to democracy...it is my worst nightmare. Libraries for the few, for profit to a few? Market ideology is sadly overtaking the public sphere. God help us if we give in to the greedy for-profit privateers that want to privatize everything! Benjamin Franklin did not have profit in mind when he conceived of the first public library. Keep public libraries free and public!

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