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Downsides of private libraries

Posted: September 11, 2010 3:20 p.m.
Updated: September 12, 2010 4:30 a.m.
 

Kudos to the hundreds of Santa Clarita residents who filled the City Council Chambers beyond capacity on Aug. 24, and to the scores of their supporters who spoke so eloquently as they requested that the City Council postpone a vote on the proposal to secede from the county library system.

One of the many concerns of those in attendance was the fact that, in leaving the county library system, Santa Clarita residents are also leaving access to more than 7.1 million collection items that the county circulates.

Another concern was the wisdom of the council’s plan to relinquish the operations of our libraries to a private, for-profit company based in Maryland as soon as the takeover was completed. Because this is a for-profit company, it is under no obligation to release its financial reports to the residents of Santa Clarita, thus denying us the accountability and transparency that we citizens have always expected from our leaders and civic institutions.

An additional downside to relinquishing control of our libraries to this for-profit company was expressed by the speakers. As manager of our libraries, its officers have the power and right to lay off the extraordinarily competent library staff who have serviced our community for decades and made our libraries the best in the county.

Our professional librarians hold master’s degrees in library science and they and their staff have attended countless in-service programs to ensure that our libraries are on the cutting-edge of technology and circulation techniques. They know many of us individually and know the wants and needs of the community’s library patrons as a whole.

After three hours of testimony passed, with only three speakers supporting the City Council’s proposal, the vote was taken and the council removed us from the county library system, handing control of our libraries to Library Systems and Services from Maryland, and our librarians may soon be unemployed.

Not only did the City Council disregard the will of the people present in its chambers on Aug. 24 and the petition signed by 1,500 residents of the city who could not be there, it even overlooked the opinion of City Councilman Bob Kellar, who expressed discomfort in taking the vote at that time — stating that there were too many unanswered questions and there had been too little citizen input.

Following a City Council meeting where we hoped to see democracy in action, we are sad to say that we now understand why so many citizens of our city say over and over again, “Why bother to vote? What difference will it make?”

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