California libraries targeted for takeover by private equity firms

Katherine sez,

Public libraries in Camarillo, Santa Clarita and Ventura have all been targeted for a takeover by Library Systems and Services (LSSI), a private company headquartered in Maryland and majority-owned by the private equity firm Islington Capital Partners. Privatizing public libraries means libraries will be de-professionalized and residents will pay more and receive less, while LSSI makes a profit for its investors and shareholders. Instead of listening to residents, the City Council created a 'Citizen's Advisory Committee' to review Santa Clarita's library system and its needs and make recommendations for moving forward with LSSI. The committee had no decision-making power, and was widely criticized as a thinly veiled attempt to silence critics.

Instead the SEIU is taking matters into their own hands with the "Privatization Beast" site, fighting to help keep public library services public. People from all over are signing the petition to help save the Santa Clarita public library system. Comedian Sarah Haskins even teamed up with the SEIU to make a claymation video showing the Privatization Beast in action. There's hope that with enough support, the libraries can be saved.

Privatization Beast | Hide your libraries! A privatization beast is on the lose! (Thanks, Katherine!)


  1. What a terrible, terrible idea. Why would we ever want to associate libraries with profit? How is a privatized library not directly competing with Amazon and B&N and Netflix and all the other places people can go for books and media. And it’s not hard to see who’s likely to come out on top in that battle.

    1. In the world of the NeoCons, every time you lend your neighbour a tool, you’re being a socialist. Any lost opportunity to make a profit is inefficiency, and every act of kindness with no expectation of reward or quid pro is conducted by a sucker.

      All of this is a narrow-minded sociopathic response to the attitude of “nobody every helped me; why should I help anyone else? We should all pull our own weight!”

      This attitude is accompanied by thoughtless use of roads, sewers, water distribution systems, publicly funded education, health care, and yes, libraries.

      AKA, Greed, wrapped in hypocrisy, and distracted by an overwhelming need to fill the aching chasm where a soul should be. Most of the major personality disorders are characterized by an inability to question the aberrant believe structure. When there are only a few people with such disorders, society calls them crazy, locks them up and treats them. When a sizable percentage have such disorders, it’s called a culture, and it mows down anything in its path until it runs up against some reality it can’t overwhelm. Like, maybe, the Gaia Theory?

      1. After a tirade on aberrent belief structures you close with Gaia Theory? AYFKM? That’s the best laugh I’ve had all day. Thanks.

  2. The horrors of neoliberalism march on. All of us fighting school privatization have been holding our collective breath hoping the privatizers would forget about libraries. The last of the public commonwealth is being fed to the corporate maw.

  3. Why not use actual facts when discussing this issue? You automatically assume that privatization=bad. So did this guy in Redding CA:
    “In Redding, Calif., Jim Ceragioli, a board member of the Friends of Shasta County Library, said he initially counted himself among the skeptics.

    But he has since changed his mind. “I can’t think of anything that’s been lost,” Mr. Ceragioli said.

    The library in Redding has expanded its services and hours. And the volunteers are still showing up — even if their assistance is now aiding a private company. “We volunteer more than ever now,” Mr. Ceragioli said.”
    Was this from some press release by LSSI? From some ‘neo-con’ website? Actually, no, it was from the generally liberal New York Times (

    I know you are just a blog, but doing some real research on a subject before just firing away would do you and your readers well. Ah, sure it wouldn’t be as dramatic, but at least it would be intellectually honest.

  4. I’ve dealt with LSSI a bit in a professional capacity (hence AC post). They weren’t right in my case, but I don’t think that justifies being too hysterical about things. No-one is giving them capital assets, buildings, for example, so its pretty hard to see them asset striping, or raising debt against libraries. They’re being employed to run a service, and if they don’t do it right, they can be terminated.

    Essentially, they appear to me by making their money by de-unionising their workforce and instituting more efficient management practices. Its worth remembering that, as long as the inefficiency they remove isn’t entirely taken up by profit, and the service they deliver is still good, that means more money to spend on the other important things (like schools or whatever) that the funder pays for – or indeed to leave the money in the pockets of taxpayers in the first place.

    Anyone who has dealt with libraries knows that they aren’t always the most efficient organisations in the world – and that’s where LSSI thinks it can make a difference / profit. There’s nothing super-magical about a library – if the private sector can run a good bookshop then, with the right contract, they can run a good library. Of course, if you work in a library, that might make your life a bit less comfortable.

    As always, one should be suspicious when people who have never heretofor expressed an interest in government efficiency start worrying about how the taxpayer will lose out…

  5. As a resident of Santa Clarita, I can tell you this is actually the best option for us. Our city counsel doesn’t make any light hearted decisions, and is very fiscally responsible. This actually started many years ago, but all came to a head in 2010.

    Our 3 libraries are run by County of Los Angeles, which is broke. So broke, they can’t afford to keep the libraries open or add more books, or even make improvements. We’ve seen this coming for a few years, and there’s been a debate on whether to secede from the county Library System, or not. Last year, they finally decided to take control of our 3 libraries, but they didn’t have the necessary administrative structure in place to run them. So they began to look at the options. They decided on bringing in a private company because it offered the biggest bang for the buck, so not only will our libraries remain open longer, but will also get improvements AND the locals will be paying less in taxes.

    It was just the smartest decision for our city, bar none.

    1. No, no, no!!!!

      You should have found the ten richest people that live in Santa Clarita, and passed a law bumping their taxes by whatever it took to cover the library’s expenses and keep the SEIU contented.

      Tear up your boingboing membership card perforce…

    2. Actually, the county of Los Angeles is not broke. They are still making improvements to Libraries (i.e. the new building renovations in Newhall!) New books are delivered to the libraries each day, programs go on and the doors are still open. Besides which the locals will not pay lower taxes. The prop U taxes will still be charged to the residents. The big difference will be that the residents of the Santa Clarita Valley will no longer benefit from the wide range of resources the County Libraries share. This is a nothing but a loss for the Santa Clarita Valley.

  6. I have, in other articles, seen the overt hate directed at public libraries by the libertarian/sociopathic right.

    The very concept of a public good is abhorrent to these despoilers. The idea that common interest exists is so alien to them that they feel compelled to destroy any manifestation of it.

    They are a cancer on the body politic.

    1. First, practically no one thing is a universally needed good. Even air is not a single good, nor is water; they exist in numerous bodies above and below the ground.

      Second, collectivization, while noble in intent, tends to actually make those very important resources either scarce or worse in quality. This is because, simply put, when everyone is responsible for something, no one is. That is the result of bureaucracy, and we see it happen all around us every day.

      Are there common interests? Of course! No business could run if there weren’t a common interest among some group that they could provide. But the much-maligned market solution is superior because the care of these “public” goods is in the interest of a few industrious persons. Just like with government control, those who need those goods pay someone to provide them, but unlike government-managed resources, if they are mismanaged, the managers will be changed, not by politicking or debating, but by competition.

  7. watch the product change to popular items,best sellers and merchandise,yes, the t-shirt of the book and matching tea towels.
    awful idea………

  8. My wife works as the head finance person for a large city which has multiple libraries. Every day I hear about the good employees who work for an hourly wage and the numerous middle/upper managers who can’t be fired due to SEIU rules and who dont give a damn. SEIU is one of the most self-serving unions I’ve ever seen – and they are partially responsible for the inefficiency of our local government.

    I’m about as left-winged as they come. But after watching Waiting for Superman, and having to strong arm a principal to fire a bad teacher, who had the union protecting her, and watching the library BS… All I have to say, is that the threat of privatization is a good thing.

  9. I’m a Santa Clarita resident and though I’ll be moving closer to L.A. before the big changeover, I’ve been very interested in what this means for our libraries.

    The Privatization Beast website is cute, but it doesn’t actually explain what, specifically, will happen once LSSI is running things. It only gives vague hypotheticals about possibly charging for services. I’d really like to see them address, point by point, the FAQ made by Santa Clarita regarding the new library system:

    It touches on all of the questions I’ve had (for instance, we will actually end up with access to MORE books now, not less, and the library is still ultimately run by the city) but I’ll admit that it’s vague in areas, particularly regarding current employees. Still, if we take the FAQ at its word, it sounds like a net benefit for the city.

    I’m going to hold off on passing judgment for now.

    1. Still, if we take the FAQ at its word, it sounds like a net benefit for the city.

      If I take that FOQ at it’s word it’s quite wishy washy when it comes to what they will be doing.

      LSSI always attempts….
      It is likely that….
      It is the intention of both the City and LSSI to…
      We anticipate…

      Plenty of yes/no answers to questions which the law dictates an answer to (re: privacy, fees, etc) – no solid answers about how the people will be treated

      and when it comes to benefits – that thing public employees get in lieu of good pay – they punt directly to the LSSI website.

      All this community busting makes me want to learn the Internationale.

  10. Short term gain is long term cost in this case. The libraries will have more books now, but will ultimately be geared towards turning a profit like Barns & Noble and Borders. There is nothing good that can come out of privatizing libraries. I don’t want to see tote bags and Starbucks and fees running rampant in what should be a FREE public facility geared towards learning… NOT profit! We have to think about the long term consequences here. Please sign the petition to stop the privatization:

  11. As another resident of Santa Clarita and avid library user, I can tell you this is the worst option for us. I moved from a city that had an LSSI run library, and it was a joke to call it a library. Nothing but bestsellers on the shelf. Our city council is as corrupt as a council can get; they’re only interested in payoffs, and they don’t give a damn what the residents want.

    County isn’t broke, and new books come into our local libraries monthly. I know, because I’m there at least 3 days a week. Under LSSI, we will lose the ability to order from the County collection of 7+ million items FREE. LSSI claims we can still order books because they will belong to SCLC–which is due to be cut under the proposed state budget. Then LSSI charged the City another $93,000 just to buy software so we could order books from other LSSI run libraries in Riverside. Srsly. Why would we want still more bestsellers? There has been no mention of all the databases we will lose. I love the language databases; without them, well, I can’t afford Rosetta Stone.

    LSSI is not accountable to the public; we will never know how much they’re taking in profit vs what could/should have been spent on the library. They only have ONE professional librarian to cover all their open hours. So what we’ll get is like a bookstore: someone who can look up a title, but won’t have the education to know how to do real research. And this, boys and girls, is how they make a profit. Poorly paid staff,little to no benefits (for full time workers, they can add a family memeber on to a medical plan after THREE years!!).

    LSSI already gave themselves an out in their pitch to open the library more hours. It’s in their contract; if they decide it’s not working, they can cut back all they want, without anyone’s input. It’s that simple.

    There won’t be ANY improvements. Where profit is a consideration, LSSI will always think of their wallets first. Just like our City council.

  12. As a Santa Clarita resident I am very concerned about the fact that the city council did not listen to us when we asked them to take their time making this decision. The fact is that this hasty decision will free up $25m for more redevelopment- it’s in the proposal the city manager wrote. The fact is that the county library never stated that the libraries were going to have fewer hours – they are still working on a budget. The fact is that privatetizing will only lend to more popular books fewer obscure books such as ethnic books. I’ve talked with the mayor about this and she has absolutely no information; rather correct information on this whole thing. Did u know that the city is trying to get the taxes that we voted for that currently belong to the county library? They are trying to take it without a vote. Is this what democracy is about? BTW; union employees get higher wages & that means more money to put back onto the economy which is better for the nation. Do u want to live on a Walmart world? Pretty sure the top executives there make a lot of money and don’t manage very well.

  13. Please say you meant to upload this on April 1st and got the dates wrong. This is like an Onion Headline.

  14. LSSI came to Florida recently to court some of the library systems here. My library system and several others turned them down. This is a poor option for healthy libraries. Take a look at this Return on Investment Study for Florida Public Libraries: It says, “For every tax dollar received, Florida public libraries provide $8.32 in value.”
    Can LSSI promise that? Public libraries bring added value to their users because such publicly-run entities strive to serve those who invest in the institution: the taxpayers. LSSI’s motivation is create added value for their investors at the expense of the taxpayers and library users. Seriously. If money is the only thing you value, please welcome LSSI to your community and let them dismantle your public library system.

    I will make one comment that is seemingly contrary to my argument: LSSI can save a dying library system. If the only choices are LSSI will manage the library or it will close, then what choice does a local government have? I suggest that local governments sign a 3-5 year contract with LSSI and have them reorganize their failing library systems. Then, give them the boot.

  15. Are there any websites that show the results of LSSI’s takeover of other libraries? People are talking about them charging fees to check out books, putting in starbucks, etc., and I want to see where this has been done already. I’m no fan of privatizing our libraries, but If I’m going to write to the city, I want to be able to back it up with hard facts.

    On a related note, I’ve heard that the LA County Library system is pissed. Not because Santa Clarita is leaving, but because LA JUST got done footing the bill to renovate their libraries, and they’re looking in to getting that money back.

    1. Agree completely. It’s totally appropriate to use feedback from library users in evaluating this decision. I’d do the same thing as a constant user of my library system.

      So if the SEIU members want to speak about the effect this would have on them as library patrons, I’m interested. As library employees? I’ll pass on that commentary, thanks.

  16. @16 anyone who looks to Waiting for Superman as an indication of what unions are actually like is in fantasyland.

    also this video is awesome!

  17. Dear Accounting Dept,

    Before attempting to outsource any other dept in our fine business, may we suggest that you outsource your Dept first as a gesture of good faith.

    Yours truly,

    People with a clue

  18. The library where my parents live was taken over by LSSI a few years ago. When the library was part of the city/county public system, anyone from anywhere was welcome to get a free library card and check out books or use the computers. Now, if you can’t prove you live in the approved areas, it’s a $25 annual fee. Computer access used to be unlimited; now it’s one hour a day if you don’t have your own. Also, we’ve lost access to the city/county database, which was in turn linked in to other public libraries in the state.
    What kills me is they still have a ‘Friends of the Library’ sale several times a year, selling off unpopular books from the library, or titles that patrons have donated specifically for the sale. While the locals trot around with a warm fuzzy glow, thinking they’re helping out their library, where does this money really go? This library (originally named after a local liberal, who must be spinning in his grave) has more and more crap in the general fiction section and seems to be getting less and less good non-fiction.

  19. Nice to see SEIU puts the $38 it takes out of my paycheck each month toward projects that make it look ridiculous.

  20. Yeah, let’s take something that has worked for decades with no issues, provides tons of value to the community, and fix something that aint’t broke so that more money can be skimmed off the top for a for-profit company.

    This Libertarian utopian bullshit, and its sycophantic minions that keep showing up here to defend it, will be the death of the US as we know it. The modern US was not built on Libertarian principles. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

  21. The US is on a headlong rush to transform itself into a Ferengi outpost. All hail the Rules of Acquisition!

  22. A private library works at a significant disadvantage with media, because under US copyright law it would have to pay a fee to the copyright holder every time it lent out a dvd, like Blockbuster or Netflix.

  23. I am a librarian that is new to the field. I am not a union member and I do not live in California. I do understand that serious budget concerns are creating fiscal situations that make privatizing libraries seem like a good and responsible idea. However, I believe that thinking is shortsighted.

    The public library is an essential component of our democracy. It is a place where any citizen can come to read, use computers and/or find information about any subject with complete confidence that they will not be judged or marketed to and that their privacy will be fiercely guarded. Libraries are publicly funded so that their ultimate consideration is the good of the public that they serve. Private companies will always be motivated first and foremost by profit.

    At this time, LSSI is not doing anything egregious to make money at the expense of providing a good service. But there are many ways to make money off a library and I simply do not trust that they will not start to take advantage when some of the scrutiny has passed. Imagine public libraries that are stocked only with popular novels because some of the less used material is considered too expensive to stock. Or companies taking money from publishers to push certain books, or charging for access to certain databases or, charging for time spent of computers, or even selling the patrons searching and borrowing information like many internet companies do. The list can go on and on. The change would happen gradually, but I do think it would happen.

    1. As a librarian I am sure you are able to read. Please try to find any official document that states that the United States is a democracy. How can it be made any clearer? WE ARE NOT! Never were. If we become one, mob rule will take over and the minorities will be trampled on. That is why we are a CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC. Does our system of government draw from democratic principles? Sure. But to call it a democracy is ignorance of the word and of our history.

      1. We are a Constitutional Republic AND a Representative Democracy. The two are not mutually exclusive. The only ignorance I’m seeing is willful misinterpretation and sophistry. We are not a DIRECT Democracy, certainly…but you really have to twist things around to avoid the idea that we are not a democratic nation.

  24. Lots to find scary with this. Will this impact what kind of books, CDs and DVDs, and programs are allowed in these privately run libraries? Since some large corporation would likely be behind many of these outfits running libraries, seems like that would cause them to censor themselves a bit.

  25. Just another building based product we don’t really need in the Digital age.

    Privatizing this is only a stop-gap untill people realize it’s just a waste of money.

  26. This couldn’t be about the Union, that’s sponsoring that site, losing money could it be?

    BTW, the SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION spent $44 Million dollars trying to get democrats elected last year.

    And they run that site linked in the OP.

  27. privatizing libraries is a Corporatist tool to control what we read and to limit our access to different points of view. this will limit our choices to read and think, and is just one more step to be just like Nazi Germany. Knowledge shouldn’t be controlled by a private company.

    Controlling access to books by controlling libraries is a quick way to dumb down the public. as if we need more dumbing down, see Faux News.

    he who controls knowledge controls the public’s taxes.

    libraries are too important to let Businesses run. Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.

    recall the people who voted this Profits over People action. if you don’t start here, it may be too late further down the road. as Martin Niemuller said, First they came for the Communists.

    Books are a great way to start, when coming after you and me.

  28. a reason masters don’t teach their slaves to read. knowledge is power. think about it. ugh. I’m disgusted. I grew up with rich people they are the degenerates of the human race.

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