Out of Control Policy Blog

Santa Clarita Mayor McLean Weighs in on AB 438 (Library Privatization)

Last week I posted on this blog about a rally held in Sacramento by librarians opposing the “privatization beast” and in support of California Assembly Bill 438, sponsored by Assemblyman Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara). In short: AB 438 would to impose a range of state-level mandates on local officials seeking to partner with private library operators.

This policy issue can be boiled down to three simple facts:

  1. Library privatization does not mean the loss of public control over libraries. Contracts with private operators actually allow officials to prioritize the services citizens want.
  2. Local officials have jurisdiction over libraries and have repeatedly demonstrated they’re capable of effectively partnering with private operators (E.g. Riverside County, Moorpark, Camarillo and Santa Clarita).
  3. As you read this, private operators are providing better library services across California. These private sector-provided service improvements comes at a time when state funding is tight and local governments continue to face budget strains.

With the aforementioned facts in mind, it is safe to say AB 438’s state imposed mandates over local governments represent an overreach of power best described as a solution in search of a problem.

Santa Clarita Mayor Marsha McLean recently published an op-ed entitled “Privatize libraries in their interest” in the Pasadena Star-News that incorporates her personal expertise on this topic. For those unfamiliar, Mayor McLean has overseen one of the most successful local government-led library operation privatization efforts in California. She hits all three facts listed above and tailors them to her experience as Mayor of Santa Clarita, writing:

(Santa Clarita lawmakers) determined, after extensive research and due diligence, and community outreach, that contracting for day-to-day services with a professional library management company made sense. In August 2010, the Santa Clarita City Council conducted a well-attended public hearing on whether to remain with the county library system or form a municipal library. After listening carefully to Santa Clarita's residents regarding their concerns and interests relative to library service, the council voted to preserve, protect and expand local library services in Santa Clarita by making the libraries a part of the City. Santa Clarita went out to bid and ultimately contracted with a well-known library management company to manage the day-to-day operations of the libraries. The city of Santa Clarita owns, controls, manages and funds the libraries. [Emphasis added.]

She continues:

The changes in library management resulted in 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 for new materials. Furthermore, the city is currently constructing a new 30,000-square-foot state-of-the-art library to replace a decades-old 5,000-square-foot facility located in the historical heart of our community.

The full piece is a must-read and is available online here.

For more on AB 438 see: my previous post here and Reason Foundation’s Annual Privatization Report 2010: Local Government; Part 7: Library Privatization Takes Hold in California (available online here).

Harris Kenny is Policy Analyst


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