Editor’s Note: The draft contract between the city of Escondido and Library Systems & Services is now available for public viewing on the city’s website: www.escondido.org.
Critics of the city’s move toward outsourcing the operation of the Escondido Public Library often ask why the city never asked the County of San Diego to make a proposal for running the facility. Many feel the city should have made this attempt before resorting to contracting with a private firm.
It did. Or at least it made the attempt.
Cynthia Smith, interim director, library and community services, who wrote a scathing review of LS&S earlier this summer—a report which was never posted on the city’s website—also did a nine-page report for the city council on the County, entitled: “Preliminary Library Outsourcing Overview Regarding the Option to Join San Diego County Public Library.” It was delivered to the city on July 21, 2017.
Smith noted that the subject of consulting with the County was brought up at a city council meeting on January 27, 2010. The city sent former city librarian, Laura Mitchell, and former director of community services, Jerry Van Leeuwen (who now is the head of the California Center for the Arts, Escondido,) to meet with the now retired director of the county library system, Jose Aponte, and a county library financial analyst. No further discussions occurred, although several letters were exchanged.
State law would allow the county library system to run the city facility. In fact, the County would be required to do so if the city requested it. A contract between the city and the County would be required, however.
If this happened the county would operate the library by taking on responsibility for personnel and staffing, management, technology systems, promotion, volunteers, etc. The city would continue to own the facilities and be responsible for maintaining them. It would pay utilizes, security systems. It would no longer get revenue from fees for overdue books or room rentals.
On the other hand, the city would not be responsible for personnel costs, including staff salaries and pensions. “Should EPL be turned over to the County, it is assumed that EPL staff would be laid off or terminated,” wrote Smith. “Current EPL staff cannot be guaranteed continued employment with SD County because the County follows competitive civil service employment practices.”
While acknowledging that advantages for working with the County existed, such as the fact that SDCL is a well-respected “and high functioning system,” its branches are open seven days a week, and it has a large book collection, the disadvantages were that “there would be a loss of local control,” “the decision . . . could jeopardize community support for the library,” “the EPL Board of Trustees would disband” (replaced by the Board of Supervisors) and that the Escondido library’s collection would become part of the county system’s “floating collection,” and available throughout the County.
Smith wrote that the Escondido Library does not fit the typical model of a San Diego County Library. It is much larger, for example. She estimated that it would take up to five years to transition from a city-run facility into one run by SDCL.
She wrote, “It is not known how easy or difficult it would be for SD County to take on the expense of planning and transition.”
Smith conceded that it was not possible to do a comprehensive review of the advantages and disadvantages of a takeover by the county without the assistance of the county library.