Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Outsourcing @ Your Library

Since it's environmental week at the AL, here's another piece with a tangential environmental connection. Last week a kind reader sent me this article about those Jackson County, Oregon libraries that reopened after they'd been closed for a while. You may remember I wrote about the closing back in March, speculating that choosing the spotted owl over human beings was one possible contributing factor to the library closings. Boy did some people get mad when I said I preferred people to spotted owls. My favorite comment on that piece was this: "Personally, I prefer the Redwood Forrest and the Spotted Owl to lumberjacks any day.... And who cares about their library. I can only imagine the sorts of things they checked out." Nice. That's what I get for saying I care about people. If I stick to my usual misanthropy, I'm safe.

Librarians all over the country raised a stink about how much those folks in Jackson County would suffer without their libraries and how important it was to keep them open. Now the Jackson County libraries are open again, but those librarians still aren't happy. You see, the only way they could afford to reopen was to outsource the library services, which are now handled by LSSI. Some librarians are angry about this, including the Glorious President of the ALA. I thought our library services were supposed to be all about the users and how important they are. You know, we librarians love you more than your mama does. All those twopointopians blather on about that when they're trying to pretend they're not a technocult. It's about service! It's about the user! But we know different, don't we. It's not about the user, it's about us.

Check out this from the article: "The practice [of outsourcing library services] has generated a backlash from those who argue that municipalities are employing a backdoor method of weakening the power of labor unions, and those who say that such profit-making ventures go against the notion that libraries are one of the noblest functions of government in a democracy."

Oh, okay. So what's more important--service to library users or making sure municipal unions are strong? I know what the regressive librarians would say, because for them libraries and librarians are secondary (if that) to their radical political agenda, so of course they care more about the unions than the library users. But I thought for the rest of us the test was supposed to be, is this the best thing for the library users? Is it better for the users to have outsourced library services, or no services at all? Let's make the question even harder. If library services were actually better outsourced, then which is better for the users? I can tell you, the users don't care if the library staff are "professional" librarians or unionized staff. They just care about service. It's the librarians who care about who provides that service.

And don't even get me started on "the notion that libraries are one of the noblest functions of government in a democracy." What in the heck is that supposed to mean? How is that at all relevant to this debate? If the services are being provided, and being provided well (or at least as well as public libraries usually provide them, which I realize isn't the same thing), then what difference does it make who supplies the services? The "government," after all, is still paying for these services. The libraries are outsourced, not privatized. Who says that a service paid for by the "government" has to also be provided by that government? Is there much evidence that people working in unionized government jobs do a better job that people working for profit?

Here's one unhappy librarian complaining: "'This is a shift from the public trust into private hands,' said John Sexton." "'Libraries have always been a source of information for everyone and owned by no one.'" Oh, okay. And how is paying for but outsourcing the library any different, especially from the patron's point of view? Does LSSI now "own" the source of information? Aren't we supposed to be thinking of the service to the users? Mr. Sexton, we discover, is "an out-of-work Jackson County librarian who has interviewed with LSSI for his old job," but no doubt his protest is motivated by the noble goal of defending the public from the evil LSSI empire.

Partly this mess came about because Jackson County didn't want to pony up for libraries. "Book lovers complained bitterly about the closings, but two ballot measures to raise taxes and reopen the libraries fell short." No doubt some of you think the US Government should have kept subsidizing this county indefinitely, even if the people there weren't willing to help themselves. But I don't. This shows that the majority of the people of Jackson County don't think it's worth paying more taxes to support their libraries. But, "then LSSI offered to run the libraries, underbidding the public employees union." So here we have a case of a community that won't commit more funding to libraries, and yet they're still getting library services that morally perhaps they don't deserve, because LSSI can do the job more cheaply than the unionized librarians. Just who exactly are the good guys and who the bad guys here? If it were up to the union, Jackson County wouldn't have any libraries. Are we supposed to treat these people like heroes?

"Some bibliophiles fear that the library, under distant, corporate management, will be less attuned to local interests when buying books and will stock the shelves with lots of best-sellers." (Notice how for the writer of this article, library supporters are all "book lovers" and "bibliophiles.") Yeah, I'm sure that's a lot different from public libraries now. We all know how public libraries don't stock their shelves with lots of bestsellers. We don't want our libraries to start stocking popular books and videos and CDs. We want our public libraries to keep providing the intellectually challenging and culturally rich collections they do now. Right.

Even the Glorious ALA President weighs in on this debate. "'Does this company understand local needs?' asked Loriene Roy, president of the American Library Association, which opposes library outsourcing. 'We have long regarded libraries as different. We deal with intangibles. We are not profit-driven.'" What is this supposed to mean? Her last sentence is clearly in line with her alleged position that librarianship is a "calling" and that money shouldn't be important to librarians. But "we deal in intangibles"? What, like high priestesses of information? Is this another religious interpretation of librarianship? The first question is purely empirical. LSSI will either understand local needs or not, but being a private company has nothing to do with it. Companies try to understand local needs; that's how they make money. Does that bustling deli down the street "understand local needs"? And is it run by the government?

LSSI defends itself, of course. "'The average citizen, when they walk into the library, they will see well-trained, well-educated, customer-service-oriented people working in the library,' said Bob Windrow, director of sales and marketing for ... LSSI. 'They won't know who is paying their salary, and they won't care. They care whether the library is open adequate hours, and are they getting good service.'" Apparently, the LSSI record is mixed, with some satisfied and some dissatisfied customers, but again, the question is empirical. If the Jackson County residents do get good library services, especially considering the option is no library service, then what's the problem? Who is most important to the librarians? The librarians, or the users? We know the answer is the librarians, and what I find so interesting about this debate is the way it cuts through the usual verbiage about how the users are sacrosanct. If the users are the measure, and if the users are happy, then outsourcing the services shouldn't be a problem for any librarians. It's all for the users, right?

And let's consider this from another angle for a moment. I will admit that some outsourcing bothers me. It especially bothers me when some ignorant customer service person is obviously in New Delhi or someplace and has no idea how to satisfy my needs. It bothers me on a different level when American companies move jobs out of America because some sweatshop in Guam makes tee shirts more cheaply than some sweatshop in Florida. I'm sympathetic to the masses of American citizens who are never going to be able to thrive in an information economy, who even with free education just won't be smart enough for intellectual work, but who could still be productive and self-supporting citizens if things were different.

But hey, we're not talking about some automaker who starts assembling cars in Indonesia. These library jobs aren't being outsourced to India (I think the reference could be outsourced to India, but the reshelving would be problematic.) These are still Americans working these jobs, even perhaps "professional" librarian Americans. Okay, so their benefits aren't as good as they were. The other option here, in case it isn't clear, is no job at all. And if the librarians need better jobs, then they'll just have to be mobile and have marketable skills like the rest of us. This "outsourcing" isn't the kind that raises the hackles of many Americans. Americans in general aren't necessarily being harmed by this, and one could definitely argue that Americans in Jackson County are being benefited. Librarians are the ones in danger, not Americans, not the users, and not libraries.

This debate is similar to all the guff about how we have to bend over and grab our ankles to make libraries "relevant" to people. Libraries are relevant or they're not. The people care, or they don't. If people don't want what libraries provide, then libraries will go away, but that's more of a problem for the librarians than it is for the people. What if all "information" was available for free online, search engines had perfected search, "information literacy" was universal, and computers and Internet access were available to all? If that happens, public libraries will probably be unnecessary for the most part. Is that a problem for the people, or for the librarians? Even now it's true for many people. Access to information is cheap. We talk about the "digital divide," but I wonder how many people on the other side of the digital divide can afford televisions and cable.

All this rubbish about public versus private is just, well, rubbish. Perhaps, as one of my commenters last week suggested, this explains the inanity of some librarians considering the profession a "calling." It's the non-profit syndrome, the unverified and unverifiable belief that working for a non-profit somehow makes one nobler than those poor philistines who work for profit. This attitude is rampant in academia, and I'm assuming elsewhere as well. All of us earning our pay from other people's tax money tend to forget that most people have to actually produce things or provide services for a profit to support us. We don't seem to mind people providing us goods and services for a good price while making a profit, then taking their money to provide our salaries, but we then get all misty-eyed when we think of our own noble sacrifice. Yes, we non-profits are soooo noble. We "deal in intangibles." We aren't interested in filthy lucre. Mere "profit" means nothing to us. Trade is so dirty, isn't it. How aristocratic we all are! How noble!

I might also note that this public versus private rubbish implies that public librarians are better librarians than librarians who work for law firms or corporations. Does anyone believe this to be true? Are public librarians so much better than other librarians because they are noble servants of the public? For you special librarians out there in the corporate sector, what do you think of the notion that you're not as good at your jobs as you might be if you sacrificed yourself for the public and lived off someone else's tax money?

It turns out, though, that librarians aren't really so noble. They want to be all "relevant"--so they don't get fired. They want people to come to the library and support the library--so they don't get fired. They would rather Jackson County go without library services than have some private company provide the services--so they don't get fired. They're desperate to seem hip and happening and desirable--so they don't get fired.

I'm not saying many, and perhaps even most, librarians aren't dedicated to library users. I'm saying it's time librarians stopped claiming that user satisfaction is all they're interested in, or pretending that public library service is somehow more noble than going out to work for the Man. If librarians were interested only in user satisfaction, they wouldn't complain about library outsourcing in such a knee-jerk manner. Librarians are interested in librarians, except, of course, when they're not.


Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head on that one. I for one, as special librarian don't feel any less noble than the public librarians

virtual assistant staff said...

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crudlucker said...

Wait - LSSI hires librarians?

Nathan said...

Very thoughtful post AL.

"If the users are the measure, and if the users are happy, then outsourcing the services shouldn't be a problem for any librarians. It's all for the users, right?"

In my mind, it *should* be all about the users - i.e. we exist to serve them and not for our own sake - but this does not necessarily preclude the the idea that their is something higher than their own happiness or satisfying their own felt needs. Perhaps the users themselves or their own happiness aren't "the measure", but rather something higher - and this *should* be something both public and private libraries realize - not to mention *everyone else*.

The problem is, fewer and fewer people believe this today. Purpose is only personalized. MyRelevence reigns. Wisdom of the ages is trashed for what I find interesteing - and there is nothing higher than my belly. Everything - even all "knowledge" - can be instrumentalized to serve myself. Words are ultimately only "power tools" we use to manipulate others for our own purposes.

Or so I'm told.

But I believe all of us should be different. Why shouldn't librarians, public and private, with their historical emphasis on being places to seek truth, lead the way?

Anonymous said...

I understand what you're saying and once believed in that ideal. Now I wonder how could I include that something *higher* in my annual statistics?

As far as outsourcing goes, I say go for it. Let them use newbies to watch over the computers, break up fights and tell the perverts to leave the children alone. What a wonderful way to seed the bitterness that can be librarianship.

Dances With Books said...

Well, they deserve what they get. As you point out, AL, if they had actually put up the money to pay for their library, they would not have had to outsource. But they voted against a tax increase to pay for it not once, but twice. So it is clear what the values are, and in this case, it's pretty much who does it cheaper. In this case, the outside company made a cheaper bid. Will the service be anything good or not, time will tell. But in the end, it's what the users wanted. And, as you point out, it should be about the users, right?

Talking Books Librarian said...

You make some interesting points. I must admit, as a librarian, the idea of outsourcing makes me nervous. I like to see the "control" of libraries stay in local hands, so to speak. At this rate, will library jobs be outsourced to other countries as well, like is happening with many other fields? How would this affect the users? I can't see how it would benefit them...

Anonymous said...

I have always said, the worst part of libraries are the librarians.

Nathan said...

"Now I wonder how could I include that something *higher* in my annual statistics?"

Unless you are a religious institution (and even then it might not work), you probably can't - unless you are a really good rhetoritician and convince people that there is something akin to truth outside of themselves that is worth looking at and for (of course, there isn't, right - you'd only be doing it to not get fired :) ).

So yes - I see that you are screwed. After all, as the AL opines, we can't talk about the value of anything "intangible". Mercilessly measure everything, I say.

Like I said, both private and public institutions ought to be aiming higher - and libs of all kinds are in a natural position to
be gateways to "higher things" - things whose enduring value can't always be measured or immediately identified, especially if one has been starved from early on.

AL said...

I also would like the library to count for something higher, and at its best I believe it does, but the quantitative drive is too overwhelming for administrators and the McDonaldization of libraries may be complete. I suppose if one is persuasive enough one might convince people that the library is worthwhile even if nobody uses it, but that probably won't convince those in charge of funding. As for Jackson County, they're lucky to have any libraries at all.

Nathan said...

"the McDonaldization of libraries may be complete."

You are probably right about that.

And with that, perhaps the McDonaldization of public education, libraries, government, etc...

I'm sure there will be some holdouts among some academic libraries, but eventually they can be assimilated to. :)

Anonymous said...

In the pantheon of nobility, where do librarians fall if they are employed by a public library that is not funded through the general fund (i.e. taxes) are they more noble than private librarians but less noble than public librarians? If the pay scale is the same, does that affect the nobility?

Can someone clear this up for me?

Anonymous said...

This isn't really new, one of my classmates from library school got started in government libraries by working for a contractor. She actually did fairly well last I heard.

Ultimately it's about moving the costs of benefits (healthcare and retirement) onto a contractor, and reducing the liability in hiring and retaining someone. Laying off or terminating Sally the librarian can lead to legal issues and paying for unemployment. Terminating the contract with another company is much simpler.

I have a standing policy never to talk about the place I work, but let's just say outsourcing and contractors is everywhere today.

And who knows, maybe in the future if I try again for a librarian job that the interview may come down to just if I have a degree and can do the job, not fitting the insane requirement a committee of Jean Teasdales cooked up.

Anonymous said...

I'm an outsourced librarian and I'm a real professional too. I work in the evil for-profit world and serve my users needs. I actually call my users customers because they are buying my product (service) and paying my salary.

Yes, my library has been outsourced for years and the library staff loves it. We don't pay any union dues, and we get competitive wages --- actually above my peers. We live outside the petty politics of the wider corporation.

We have to be competive to keep our function --- we must cater to the needs of our customers --- so they continue to renew our contracts. We have to prove our value, which we can, because we tailor our needs to the customers.

I know it's scary not to be mired in bureaucracy -- I was worried to step out of the old model -- but it is so much more relevant to compete and be active in an organization than to just be there because 'we have always had a library".

Taxpayers are customers. Libraries should be a value they can readily see. The staff should be happy to have them visit and ask questions. Best Sellers should be there waiting for the customers. After all, the librarians are merely workers in the house of the taxpayer -- they own the material and building -- it's time they were respected.

Being noble, I don't know how to quantify that. Being available for the customer, offering classes, materials and service is just good practice/business. Hopefully, well run libraries with excellent professional and regular staff offer the facilities for our customers to work on projects that they deem noble. Reaching out to the 'underserved' is good practice, it brings in more customers; partnering with schools and local business groups also brings in good customers. There are a lot of exciting opportunities available if you look at your services as a good commodity and go out and find the customers instead of hiding in the old paradigm of being a noble institution that is valuable because of intangibles. Noble results can follow on any well-thought out and customer-supported program.

Outsourcing provides competition to traditional library operations -- that is a good thing. Outsourced libraries are not the death knell for librarians, in fact, they offer a better chance to make good money. If I do my best and am valued by my customers -- I get a raise -- I don't have to be subject to seniority and I don't have slugs on my staff holding down the salaries. Yes, you have to prove your worth on at least an annual basis -- if you do a good job you get a raise, if you do a really good job you get a bigger raise. It's so nice to hold your wage destiny in your own hands. Outsourcing is only a threat to those unwilling to compete.

Thank you AL for the shout out to us Corporate/Specials we are real librarians too. A lot of the non-profits have an attitude against business which is so silly, businesses pay the majority of property taxes in most towns, employ your customers and are also the major benefactors to foundations. Being 'noble' with someone else's money isn't nobility at all.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, in response to your post, respectfully, I say that the culture in the United States is not governed by any true principle of transcendence, as transcendence is traditionally understood. People really do live selfishly, hence the Oregon librarians’ dismay at losing their jobs to other librarians. The principle of self-interest is practically genetic in the US. Walt Whitman, American extraordinaire, celebrates this sort of thing in his poem Leaves of Grass when he praises “One’s-Self I Sing.” The idea of a calling, in the context of American democracy, is merely based on personal desire and is not grounded in any higher principle. America offers no benchmark for transcendence; I mean, how could it? Science, technology and market economics are the primary motives for interaction, anything beyond the transactions of living is personal, e.g. religious belief or working for a non-profit as AL puts it. The Jackson County library in Oregon and all other libraries, for that matter, are facing stiff competition and why shouldn’t they? Competition keeps things fresh, encourages innovation and ultimately is the key factor that keeps the consumer or patron happy. Can you imagine if libraries ran the world? We’d still have everything written on papyrus, kept on closed shelves and run by stuffed shirts.

Soren Faust

Anonymous said...

I'm torn. On the one hand, I totally understand the logic. My hometown library (which I'd very much thought of returning to even though no one else wants to be in that city) has decided to save money by making a lot of the professional positions part time without benefits. Which... kind of makes fiscal sense. But means that I can't home again, because I can't afford to work a part time job with no benefits. But is it the wisest use of city funds? What about more materials?

So, self-interest vs. community interest. Mostly, I'll go for the community... when I can afford to. Sigh.

My main quality concern about outsourcing vs. the union is that the outsourced company might be, shall we say, less likely to argue with the administration, and as a library user, I want someone out there arguing with the administration, which is usually where idiotic decisions like "Stock only best sellers" and "Take the nonfiction off teen shelves" tend to originate.

Nathan said...


I agree with *much* of what you say.

Let me make this point though. You say: “There are a lot of exciting opportunities available if you look at your services as a good commodity and go out and find the customers instead of hiding in the old paradigm of being a noble institution that is valuable because of intangibles.”

Just for the record, I don’t want to do any hiding here – I am simply concerned that one of the historic *core functions* of public libraries in America – i.e. places which serve to encourage a responsible and educated citizenry concerned with higher matters (than what we can "quantitate") and the wider world out there (of course made possible by the organization of information, making easily findable the best of the best when it comes to resources) is being replaced by other, more important and pressing matters, like the right to free porn (among other things)

But hey - if that’s what your customer base is clamoring for... :)

But of course, they're not... our public libraries just often seem determined to undermine the values of those they serve.

Brent said...

AL made my Wednesday have a boo-boo.

Nathan said...


Thanks for engaging me here.

Of course you’re right. Libs are not governed by any principle of transcendence, nor do I think they should be. I believe in a separation of Church and State and I don’t think the library should be governed by any philosophical school. However, historically, they are undeniably places that lead one in that direction, to consider such things… to consider mystery… i.e. they are open to such things.

Of course people are selfish, we know this. However, I believe there is a legitimate self-interest as well. How can I serve my family, my neighbor, and try to help them find true happiness if I don’t take care and value my self… if I am not thankful *to be* and to have responsibilities towards others (who happen to bring me great joy)?

“The idea of a calling, in the context of American democracy, is merely based on personal desire and is not grounded in any higher principle.”

Well, this may be, but I, for example, am a Christian first and an American second. Many others would agree – if not explicitly, than tacitly – thereby mitigating “the pursuit of [personal] happiness” as the highest intended goal. As I mentioned in my post above, I simply think that libs should not discourage or the beliefs and values of *the majority* of those they serve. If the people in the Church can’t convince their neighbors that they ought to “come to Jesus”, well, then those who make up the majority are going to change aren’t they? (at the same time, I believe that all people ought to be able to bring their views to the floor for debate in our democracy, and should feel free to argue intelligently for something informed by religious convictions)

Finally Soren, I am fine with the libs from Jackson County facing stiff competition – and actually agree with you about what the world would be like with libs running the world (very funny). Just see my concerns above, that’s all.

Melissa said...

And don't even get me started on "the notion that libraries are one of the noblest functions of government in a democracy." What in the heck is that supposed to mean? How is that at all relevant to this debate?

I couldn't agree more as it is the outsourcing which is allowing for this great democratic experiment to work in that particular county. Ultimately access to goods and services, of any kind, comes down to money. It is completely sensible for this county, and any taxpayer, to want the best service possible for their dollars.

AL said...

"I am simply concerned that one of the historic *core functions* of public libraries in America – i.e. places which serve to encourage a responsible and educated citizenry concerned with higher matters (than what we can "quantitate") and the wider world out there (of course made possible by the organization of information, making easily findable the best of the best when it comes to resources) is being replaced by other, more important and pressing matters, like the right to free porn (among other things)"

This is a concern for me as well, but I don't see much of the current ALA and libraryideology that encourages this. During BBW, we find out how noble librarians are for promoting "challenged" books, but during the rest of the year we're bombarded with claims that librarians have to be more "relevant," play more video games, bring in more "customers" by doing just about anything possible. I've written about this a few times in my pieces on the purpose of public libraries. Once public libraries get away from a function to serve the common good by helping to produce an educated citizenry and move toward being tax subsidized entertainment centers, then the argument against outsourcing is even weaker. If the library is primarily an entertainment center, then there's nothing special about it. Then is becomes like any other business--success comes from doing a good job satisfying customers. This is not a goal to be taken lightly or condemned--we all want this when we're customers. But it's different from dealing in intangibles or creating a responsible and educated citizenry.

Anonymous said...

The fact is that many people do better themselves by using the public library. Just because some people misuse the resources in the library does not in itself implicate the library as an entertainment center and that the public library should therefore become defunct. That’s like saying that because some people abuse the laws and mores of a community that the community itself is corrupt and should be dismissed as irrelevant. I work in a public library and everyday I witness people “bettering themselves,” however you want to define that. Now I admit that the library I work in is in a major urban area and has an immense and historical collection, but I find it hard to believe that this is the only public library that has patrons interested in more than myspace and porn.

Soren Faust

Anonymous said...

you can't have it both ways dear. in one post you complain about how we are underpaid and now you are complaining that if we don't do things the cheapest way forget it. which is it? are we to be paid well for the work we do or should we be working at Walmart and McDonald's part time to get by?

Nathan said...

"Then [it] becomes like any other business--success comes from doing a good job satisfying customers. This is not a goal to be taken lightly or condemned--we all want this when we're customers. But it's different from dealing in intangibles or creating a responsible and educated citizenry."

But I think the problem is that "creating a responsible and educated citizenry" seems *to many* something that *is intangible* - i.e., it is rather difficult to see or quantify. These are *just words* - power games that we play in order to achieve our will to power over the other. Nothing of your or my desire to achieve this goal can possibly be rooted in any kind of stable reality in the universe to which all must bow. Rather, when it comes to humanity, all is *infinitely malleable*

...but I suppose that if you are more interested in subsidizing porn and entertainment than promoting those stuffy traditional values this lack of sight becomes more understandable.

Nathan said...


"Just because some people misuse the resources in the library does not in itself implicate the library as an entertainment center and that the public library should therefore become defunct"

I think the AL's beef is that libs often strive to promote themselves as this (though not using these words of course).

AL said...

That is my beef.

"you can't have it both ways dear."

Of course I can have it both ways. I'm the Annoyed Librarian. I'll have it any way I want. If librarians want to be well paid then they'll be well educated and trained and demonstrate marketable skills in a competitive market. That's a stereotype alien to librarians. Some librarians want to be paid well for just being noble. Avoiding competition and having union contracts that reward longevity rather than talent is no way to raise your pay. My complaints about library pay have often been directed at the folly of things like ALA-APA that ignore all the realistic ways to raise librarian pay and try to claim that librarians are underpaid because they're discriminated against or something.

Kevin Musgrove said...

'We have long regarded libraries as different. We deal with intangibles. We are not profit-driven.'"


Libraries aren't any different to any other public service, however delivered, whoever by. The idea that they are different is the reason why they lose out so often for resource competition for your tax dollar when other services are prepared to identify any and every tangible benefit that might sway the political machine their way. Not necessarily cash-profit driven but assuredly driven by the return on the investment to the community.

Libraries provide a huge return on a small investment but too many librarians can't be arsed to collect, quantify, report and sell the message. (The difference between marketing your product and sitting in a corner bleating that you're special).

The only public servants who should be dealing with intangibles are priests and exorcists.

Thanks AL!

Anonymous said...

Nathan is getting at something that I wonder about often. There are institutions in our society that have historically been viewed as having a "greater purpose", something beyond corporate profit and competition. Places where 'numbers' don't always tell the full story. My mother's a nurse so I'm thinking about hospitals here too. She laments the changes in hospital policies and the restrictions that they face from insurance providers and how this makes it hard for her to provide effective patient care.

Hospitals have already gone the market route and in some cases this has been good for patient care but in other ways it has been very bad. Libraries are likely to follow the same fate.

We need to strike a better balance between the 'noble' intentions of institutions that serve the public good and the need for said institutions to remain viable and responsive to their users/customers/patrons/patients needs.

Proletarian Librarian said...

"It's not about the user, it's about us."

Thing is, with Twopointopians it's not even about us, it's about ME.

Anonymous said...

Excellent points!

theotherwaldo said...

You are all drawing a great deal from an odd case. The Jackson County Library System was primarily, and for many years, funded by the O&C Land fund, a relic of a failed 19th century railway. When most of the O&C land was tied up by extreme Greens, library funds vanished.
Raising taxes wasn't an option, because southern Oregon is in a permanent depression, officially. It's primary money crop is marijuana, which pays no taxes.
Thus something different had to be done.

I doubt that this parallels any library system outside of Oregon.

BTW, if the San Juan, TX library mentioned by AL is a typical example of an LSSI library, then you have nothing to worry about. It has ZERO professional staff, heavy turnover, and a very poor selection of books. The building may never get completed, as well.
Even McDonalds does it better.

theotherwaldo said...

My error: it was the International Herald Tribune article that mentioned the San Juan library, not AL. And the San Juan library may not be as bad as I had indicated. I can't be sure, as it has functionally disappeared. Web page is defunct, phones aren't answered, and no one recalls the last time they went there. Neither do I, and I drive past it twice a day.

Anonymous said...

I think there are few points that haven't been stated here that are important to this debate. Jackson County did decide to have LSSI run its libraries at about half the cost of the counties/cities running them, however, the libraries will only be open 24 hours instead of 40+(I don't know much about higher math but that doesn't seem too challenging to figure out? LSSI is offering half the library hours for half the money, where is the savings?) LSSI only makes money if they run the library for less they the contract amount, so that seems to be an incentive to cut corners and not supply all the library materials, i.e. why buy an OED when a Merriam-Websters will do?

That speaks to the question of local interest. Libraries have a bit of a reputation for protecting such esoteric ideas as intellectual freedom and privacy(ask Donald Rumsfeld). Will a company run by non-librarians have the same values? That is a pretty scary in a conspiracy theory world where the government ignores civil liberties in the name of homeland security, oh wait, that is this government. So, will LSSI keep a list of who checks out the Anarchist Cookbook and report them to the FBI to be "good citizens"? The county is still setting library policies but what sort of oversight will there be to make sure the policies are followed when obviously finances are tight and oversight costs money.

Also, if libraries support freedom of inquiry and information, how is that modified by a corporation that may not share that ideal? Is it in LSSI's best interest to support an informed citizenry?

I agree that Jackson County needs to get off the fed govt tit and pony up some cash for their libraries--that whole debate, while court cases drag on about logging, etc. get off your asses and move or figure out how to survive without raping the forests! The poor logger is such an old saw(oops, pun intended)and outmoded. Instead of spending the federal money on important services(I support cops, road and libraries)the county could/should have work on retraining, re-establishing a community interest, vineyards, another money making industry, instead of relying on that money for essential services. There is enough blame to go around, so grab your cup(styrofoam please)and dip in for some guilt brew.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Ms. Roy read the book "Intangibles" by Barauch Lev.

Anonymous said...

The librarians in Oregon can all do this instead.

Anonymous said...

Misanthropes are the new black. AL is so fetchingly misanthropic, it makes this minion's heart skip a beat now and again.

People, people, let's get away from the issues and go back to adulation and adoration.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps we should just legalize marijuana so Southern Oregon can have a profitable cash crop, and in turn, libraries run by (stoned) Oregon Librarians? I have no objections...

Anonymous said...

I think the real scare for some librarians about outsourcing is that they cannot hide behind the union! I bet everyone here knows at least one incompetent librarian who should have been fired years ago but somehow gets to keep their job.

Perhaps outsourcing will give us new librarians a chance to get a job!!!

Anonymous said...

As the president of a library services company who provides outsourcing, as well as other services, I have to applaud your post. It was right on and it said all of the things I wish I could say publicly to the library world I live and work in. (well I have from time to time but there is that thing about alienating your customer base!) As a librarian who hires other librarians I feel that the holier-than-thou attitude of so many librarians towards the "NOBLE" profession of librarianship is total hogwash (or rubbish as you say). We provide service, we lend our expertise, we go the extra mile and why can't we stand up like other professions and expect to be well compensated for it? As you rightly point out- the whole damning of outsourcing by the ALA president and so many other misguided info pros out there, isn't about the users, the service, the integrity of the profession, its about the librarians keeping their jobs, and the misconception that outsourcing means you take qualified librarians out of their natural habitat and put in maintenance workers or data entry clerks to do the jobs. WRONG! Outsourcing companies, like LSSI despite a mixed record (ok - who doesn't have one?) and like my company, not only employ librarians, and pay competitive salaries, and match 401K benefits, but we also understand the profession, mentor, teach and promote from within and to other projects. Gee, I went on longer than I thought I would - but thank you for a well-stated article--

The.Effing.Librarian said...

I want a job that pays me well. That's the bottom line. And if being a degreed librarian can't do that because someone else can do it cheaper, then what's the point of being a professional? Pharmacists can do 70% of what doctors do, but laws exist to keep them from doing it. Paralegals are the same way. Electricians, plumbers, etc., all have professional associations to protect their incomes. Why can librarians? I appreciate that your goal is to piss off librarians (well, because it's fun), but I want to keep my job and I want more and more money the longer I do it (whether I deserve it nor not).

Stephen Denney said...

Instead of outsourcing the management of public resources to private companies, why not let these private companies establish their own libraries to compete with the public libaries?

Kicking Mule said...

...while I agree that the ALA is useless and basically reads American Library Adminstrators-Association I would not go so far as to buy into this privatization bs which is an ooze created by Reaganomics. Librarian unions are some of the few in the country with any juice and unions are essential to reclaiming the country from the bottom-liners. But maybe you would rather see little bald-headed kids pulling the coal carts again.
“The library business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.” sort of Hunter Thompson

Stephen Denney said...

As I understand, with the exception of the Ashland library, which has its own supplemental funding, libaries in this county will be open only 24 hours a week, some less than that. I wonder if they will be open at all in the evenings or weekends.

AL said...

"But maybe you would rather see little bald-headed kids pulling the coal carts again." I certainly don't want to see this in the library. I wasn't aware that's what LSSI was doing in Jackson County.

Anonymous said...

The analogy between the de-unionization of Jackson County libraries and the hiring practices of Wal-Mart are quite obvious to me. The less you pay anyone in an small local economy, the less the rest of the supppliers and consumers in that economy can thrive.

The problem is that an economy is an ecosystem, and every argument here begins with "it's all about..."

There is no "it". Each "it" is a part of a larger whole; each larger whole is part of a still larger whole, and so forth.

Jacskon County's problems began with an economy that in ecological terms was a monoculture.

As for "preferring people to spotted owls" - that's all very well and a matter of taste. But your preference has to be made on some sort of understanding of the context of both spotted owls and people, and the consequences of overpopulation either way; simply being a curmudgeon has its limits as a way of synthesizing a broad and deep understanding of how people can ultimatley, survive in a place like Jackson County.

As for the sanctimoniousness of librarians - it is a truth universally acknowledged.

kicking mule said...

...outsourcing is just another word for scabs taking union jobs which might begin with cheap security officers but end up as para-professionals doing reference. It's cheaper so it's better for the patron? Maybe they can outsource reference to India (they've got Wikipedia there) like AOL and bring in Mexicans to shelve the books at five bucks a book truck.
Without the balance of labor unions you have child labor, impure food, no health coverage, pension protection and once upon a time children pulling coal carts with their noggins. LSSI is a "bottom line" company that doesn't even pay its own bills. They take their profit out of the hides of the workers.
How do I know? I've been pulling this cart where it is dark as dungeon for thirty years. I have known plenty of incompetent librarians and more than enough incompetent supervisors who might have thrown out the good ones on personal grounds but were held in check by the union. Look at the mess corporations have made of the economy right now. You want these idiots running libraries?

AL said...

"It's cheaper so it's better for the patron?"

How do you get that out of my post? Reading every fifth word and then trying to make sense of it? The question to ask is, is it better for the library user? That's the question you're ignoring. Librarians say they want what's best for the users. What if outsourcing this library is better for the users?

"Without the balance of labor unions you have child labor, impure food, no health coverage, pension protection and once upon a time children pulling coal carts with their noggins."

Yep, if those municipal workers weren't unionized, we'd have children pulling coal carts in the reference room eating impure food during break time. Your admiration for unions is touching, but I don't see how any of this has anything to do with the unionization of public employees, who by definition work for the public, not for some coalmining or meatpacking corporation. Good grief.

Hieronymus said...

"the unionization of public employees, who by definition work for the public, not for some coalmining or meatpacking corporation. Good grief."

Do teachers work for the public?

Anonymous said...

The unionization of public employees was an anti-corruption measure.

I've lost count of immigrants who think that if I help them find Immigration forms, or show them how to fill them out, or explain the instructions on them, they either need to show their appreciation by slipping me a few bucks for coffee, or by bringing boxes of chocolates for me at Xmas (which I promptly put on the break-room table, for the whole staff, and explain to the patron what I am doing and why) -

Decent and impartial payment is the underpinning of an impartially public-serving public service.

In fact I have found that companies tend to treat their staff, suppliers and customers the same way. If one is getting gouged, the others very probably are, too.

The banning of child labor also
tended towards the strengthening of
unions, incidentally, by reducing the number of bodies available for work.

As to whether outsourcing is better for the users, the usual gaggle of questions trai into the distance behind the assertion. Better in what way? Better for some than others? Over what time-period?

The race to the bottom can only be lost. "Incompetents I have known" is not a sufficent justification for throwing out the unions with the jobs. Incompetence is found in public and private sectors alike, and as much in exempt positons as in non-exempt. It's only in the public sector that it's used as an excuse to dump unions.

Perhaps because the public service unions are the only large, somewhat powerful ones left.

Anonymous said...

I work in a library which emphasizes client orientation at a time of employees' performance evaluation. I have been wondering what it actually means having learned that its card catalog is ill-maintained, its online catalog spotty, no shelf-reading done for decades... The message I would get as a user from my library is: hell with the user.

Sgt M said...

I personally felt - during my days of penance in a public library that I could as easily be replaced by a trained monkey.

It doesn't take two degrees to help the public check out the latest copy of Mills & Boon

Anonymous said...

We all could be replaced by trained monkeys. Personally I would prefer robots. They don't need union benefits or pensions.

j- said...

*Maybe they can outsource reference to India (they've got Wikipedia there) like AOL and bring in Mexicans to shelve the books at five bucks a book truck.*

Can said Mexicans place books in the correct order? For most places, that would be a change.

kicking mule said...

...Yeah, I've heard all the librarians are glorified clerks (you need a master's degree to point?!" and "maybe that's why you are a librarian!" (said in the tone that I failed so miserably I couldn't cut giving hum jobs in the greyhound bus station toilets for quarters so I became a librarian.)
I concede that crippled, blind monkeys could do some reference work but not all. Robots would be nice but would they do nice story hours with those metallic mouths squeaking up and down during spirited Dr. Seuss dialogue?
Librarians will become obsolete when the public gets smart enough to do without them. Take a look around, do these nimrods look like they can find their butts in their back pockets. Also, I don't know about life in Podunk but here in the big city librarians don't check out books. They choose them, order them, catalog them, evaluate them, and put them in patron's hands. They also, occasionally answer very complicated questions about stuff not found in the World Book or Wikipedia. I mean, do those glorified mechanics called physicians really need Medical school to hand out statin drugs to fat guys.
Mexicans do shelve most books in California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Chicago. If your shelves are jumbled blame Mexico.

Stephen Denney said...

The foundation for this problem is the discontinuation of the
Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000, which, according to Sen. Wyden of Oregon, has been "a lifeline for forest-dependent communities in more than 40 States and in more than 700 counties nationwide."

You can read the text of congressional hearings last March on this legislation at:

kimrey said...

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Anonymous said...

Oh great,,, more middlemen! We all know what organized healthcare did for the medical profession. Doctors hate it. Patients hate it. But, it would seem, it is too late now. A whole organizations siphoning off monies from doctors and patient. Is there any doubt it is a bad move? Same with Library outsourcing. We are creating a whole layer of middlemen people! See it! Sombody pointed out that profits are going to 'corporate' and not into services. Well... Duuuuu'h! LSSI will do just enough, not a tiny bit more, to keep from getting fired themselves.

History Repeats itself.

Ann said...

Terrific debate...I used to be in tech, where outsourcing is even more prevalent, and I would have enjoyed seeing a conversation like this back then. Thanks to AL for providing the forum.

Anonymous said...

Обсуждения прекратились, но проблема не решена. Аутсорсинг библиотек является на сегодняшний день очень актуальной темой обсуждения. Факты, требуются только факты действительной экономической выгодности передачи функций библиотек сторонним организациям. Американский опыт не впечатляет,нет конкретной информации по сути данного вопроса!

Anonymous said...

Outsourcing is when you hire outside professionals or services to take on part of your business workload. You may want to outsource part of your work because you don't have the room, you need an expert, you have periodic busy periods, or you need more production to get orders out on time, etc. There are many ways outsourcing can save your business time and money.