The Coast News Group
Community CommentaryOpinion

Library plan is bad government

By Laura Hunter

It is hard to believe we are in the situation of having to defend our library from the city council majority — again. Ignoring unanimous opposition from the Library Board of Trustees, Library Foundation, American Library Association and residents, Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, Councilman Ed Gallo and John Masson continue to push to hand over operations of our library to Library System and Services (LS&S), a Maryland-based corporation. This action will devastate our library and is just bad government.

The evidence does not show that LS&S will “improve” our library.  Mayor Abed’s allegation that LS&S will “improve” our library is demonstrably wrong. Current LS&S libraries in Shasta and Riverside have branch averages showing fewer and less well-attended programs than Escondido’s public library. The LS&S Temecula library has fewer volumes and fewer computers. Not better.

Further, LS&S’s poor performance was fully exposed in a 2016 assessment of libraries under its management commissioned by Oregon’s Jackson County Library District Board. The results can only be described as abysmal. LS&S has operated these libraries for over 10 years and significant deficiencies were documented. The audit of 2015 operations found:

• Lack of LS&S transparency makes it “impossible for the Board to determine if it is getting good value for the dollar.”

• Exact use of 28 percent of the funds given to LS&S were not known.

• Overall performance failed to meet 63 percent of the minimum “essential specifications.”

• The Latino community was grossly underserved and the way the library is run “…gives the overall impression that Spanish speakers are not considered part of the community nor welcome at the Library.”

• Staff had the lower qualifications, salaries/benefits compared with other Oregon libraries and LS&S met only 11 percent of essential specifications in staff category.

The full Jackson County Library Services Performance Review and Quality Assessment is here 

Outsourcing our last, remaining library will undermine commitment and support for bond for new library.  The council says it needs a bond measure for a new library.  However, it is magical thinking to suppose that after having closed the East Valley branch library and outsourced the other, the legion of volunteers needed to pass a bond by a 2/3 vote will be motivated to help them. We won’t. We will be busy working on other strategies to remove our precious library from the constant threat of this council once and for all.

Good government and normal due diligence require evaluation of alternatives. Abed, Masson and Gallo aren’t even meeting the basics of good governmental decision-making —comparison of alternatives. Instead, they jumped on the LS&S bandwagon without any meaningful consideration of other sensible options.

Our coalition is calling for a stop to the contract process and for council to seek proposals from the current library staff and the county library system and publicly evaluate them.

A proposed contract is expected soon. Abed, Gallo and Masson need to hear from all residents who care about our library. Don’t wait. We are running out of time to save our library.

Laura Hunter is a member of  the Save Our Escondido Library Coalition