Standing Up for Public Libraries: Only Patrons Should Profit from Libraries
By Angel Nicolas
Community Library Manager/Los Angeles County Library
Being a public librarian is a calling that has allowed me to give back to the country that has welcomed me as an immigrant and given me opportunities that would not have been available in my own country. I'm proud to be a librarian and a public servant.
When I was a teenager, my life almost took a different direction when I was being recruited by a gang in my hometown of Chicago. But by chance, I met a librarian in my high school who believed in me. She helped me with my homework, introduced me to books and ideas that gave me bigger dreams and gave my life meaning.
After high school, I joined the army for a few years; I traveled the world and saw that people were hungry for better opportunities for themselves and their families. After three years, I was at a crossroads and I decided to get my masters degree and become a public librarian in inner-city libraries. I'm now the Community Library Manager at Florence Library in South Central LA. As a public librarian, I focus on my bottom line...serving my community. My library provides valuable programs and services for my neighborhood. Sometimes the library is simply a safe place for children to come to after school, away from the gangs and violence outside my doors.
Right now, just as it's become popular to attack public workers and services, a private company--Library Systems and Services (LSSI)--has come along. The company has shareholders and private equity firms investing in it. I know that if a public library becomes privatized, the bottom line will become profits and not the public. This concerns me.
Recently, I attended a packed city council meeting in Santa Clarita and I saw hundreds of community members ask their council not to privatize their public libraries. But the council had already made its decision and it didn't matter that the community was not involved in the discussion. That's why SEIU and thousands of other library workers and patrons are supporting AB 438. AB 438 is a bill that would require community approval before a city could privatize its libraries. LSSI has hired lobbyists and firms to defeat this bill. LSSI knows that in communities where the public is involved in how libraries are run, they often don't hire LSSI. LSSI does not want the public to have a voice.
People who use the libraries should be concerned about how this company will use private information along with which books and services will be discarded in order to increase profits. People should be concerned about paying fees for services that used to be free. Even people who do not use public libraries should be concerned about the fact that their library taxes are not being used for services, library materials or programs, but rather for shareholders and the profits of an out-of-state company. Local governments may get a one time infusion of funds to privatize their services, but at what cost?
AB 438 passed it's first hurdle and will be going to the California Assembly and Senate for approval within the next couple of months. Please support this bill and make a call or email to your legislator to help save public libraries. Your community's library could be next.