The California Project

07Oct10

It has been a good news/bad news scenario for Jane Doe in California. If you live in Palo Alto, you could pop into a patient health library and get some accurate info instead of trawling around the Internet to find out possible claims about goji berries and their efficacy. The wow factor is that this library is located in Stanford Shopping Mall. A great idea to make a library as a community outreach service. Maybe the next trend is a major coffee chain bankrolling libraries or reading rooms? Canada used to have a health information portal based on populations or topics, but it was shut down or transferred in the late 1990s.

On the bad news front, it was demoralizing to hear a Santa Clarita municipal government, which is suffering but not bankrupt, has privatized 3 libraries. Having worked with budgets I know salaries and electronic services are some of the items that are most costly. But by taking skilled library workers and hiring others who earn minimum wage and/or receive reduced benefits, you are not getting the cream of the crop. I worked in a system where some branches were unstaffed or staffed by people without credentials. This led to uneven service delivery, due to lack of experience and expertise. And with no one to champion the unstaffed branches, they were chronically underused.

It is a disturbing trend when private companies come in and manage libraries, like they were a Tim Horton’s. What about ethical issues? No books on abortion or other hot button issues, because the customer is always right? Librarianship has promoted freedom of speech, privacy, and reflected the diversity of its community. Will a private firm like LSSI do the same when in conflict with the profit motive? Andy Woodworth comments on LSSI in his September 29, 2010 post.

I think we can’t be complacent in Canada about the outsourcing public libraries, and need to advocate for your public library.

– Brenda

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