Escondido, CA
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Former city librarians urge: keep the Public Library Public

There are those who argue that government is a waste of money and that it should be run by private business. Such seems to be the view of the City of Escondido regarding the Escondido Public Library, as they consider privatizing our library with a for-profit company.

Like all government departments since the recent recession the Escondido Library has examined its operating methods and budgets to make reductions in expenses while still providing the very highest quality services.  Our library is one of the most efficient in California, even though our local city funding is well below average. For example, in the 2015-2016 fiscal year, Escondido Library had only .24 staff per 1000 residents, compared to the state average of .46. Our local government funding was $24.32 per city resident, compared to the state average of $48.36. At the same time, our use per hour open was over 100 persons, compared to the state average of 74.  Compared to other public libraries in the North County corridor, we have the lowest budget and the lowest paid staff, yet we are in the same exceptional quality league as our counterparts. The reason for this is because of the professional and technical staff who understand the community and utilize their talents, skills, and education to make the best economical choices to adapt to the  community’s changing needs. Library staff has already developed a plan to extend open hours to include Sundays and more evenings.

In 2011, without regard for the community’s needs, the East Valley Branch of the Escondido Public Library was eliminated. The reason given was to address the City’s financial woes of the time. There were no other Escondido departments reduced in such a manner. Now the City, like all the other California cities, is facing an unfunded retirement liability issue. Again, without a master plan to address the City’s entire pension matter, the Library as been cherry-picked as the first and only department to be selected to address this issue even though the Library represents only 2% of the City’s unfunded liability problem. Why is the Library always the sacrificial lamb in Escondido? Is it because the City has no respect for, understanding, or vision of the importance of the Library in creating an improved image and successful citizenry? Is it because they do not comprehend that the Library is an important part of the City’s infrastructure; that the community’s needs are not just relegated to streets, fire, and police, but to the educational and economical well-being of residents?  The results of the December 2015 Bond Measure survey showed that 75% of the respondents felt that the “Escondido Library plays a critical role in educating our children and youth.”

If privatization is such a wonderful option to operate public libraries, why aren’t the majority of public libraries privatized? There are over 9,000 public libraries in the United States and this private business has less than a 1% market penetration in over 20 years of their operations. This company is eager to get its paws on our Library because it would turn a handy profit for them. The company’s proposal asserts that the City would save $400,000 a year; that amount is 0.4% of the City’s operating budget. Is Escondido willing to give away local control of its busiest and most-loved City department for four-tenths of one percent of the City’s budget? And if that’s not enough, the City should know that it may not see as much savings as it anticipates. The company’s proposal includes a 3% annual increase; the City has in actuality increased the library’s operating budget only a mere 6% in the past 15 years.

You should know that the City has been in discussions with this company since late winter and states that library staff have been involved in these discussions. The truth of the matter is that the staff have been given misleading and piecemeal information; were told to attend a meeting with this company and were not provided with relevant information. To clarify, this matter is not about “outsourcing” as the City continues to misrepresent to the public.  This issue is about privatizing the Escondido Public Library, in which a third party controls not only how services are delivered, but what services are offered and delivered.

Among the three of us, we have been privileged to serve over 26 years as directors of the Escondido Public Library, and we have a collective total of 114 years as Mastered degree professional librarians in Escondido and other California cities. We are able to provide a wealth of perspective and knowledge on this very topic of keeping the Escondido Public Library public. We worked for the City of Escondido and its community because we saw and believed in the potential of the community. Since we have retired, we tried to keep quiet on this issue; to allow the City to work through this matter. However, the proposal that is currently on the City’s website severely lacks in detail, and makes one wonder how the City can make a decision on such a vague document. It seems that the total picture is not apparent. We urge you, if you love the Library, if you believe in the sanctity of not allowing private enterprise to take taxpayer money to line their private pockets, to attend the City Council meetings on Wednesday, August 16th and August 23rd at 4:30 to show the City Council that you will not permit the sale of the Library to the sharks and that you will not permit the City to participate in back-door negotiations regarding the services to the people.

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Laura Mitchell was City Librarian, City of Escondido (1991 – 2010); Jo Ann Greenberg was City Librarian, City of Escondido (2010-2012) and Loretta McKinney was Director of Library and Community Services, City of Escondido (2013 – 2017)

*Note: Opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

2 responses to “Former city librarians urge: keep the Public Library Public”

  1. David Frazee says:

    I hope that in the next election, council members are questioned about their impressions of, and uses of, all City services, especially the library. It is so important that the mayor and council not only read letters and budgets but actually experience what the City offers. As a long time librarian who is now retired myself, I can attest that I saw both Olga Diaz and Ed Gallo occasionally use the library, and Dick Daniels years ago. Back when I was on the board of the Escondido History Center, I paid for annual memberships for the mayor and all of the council members, and Marie Waldron and Lori Holt Pfeiler both took advantage of those memberships and attended some of the events, and later renewed the memberships on their own. My point is that more council members refrain from experiencing what Escondido offers than those who do, and because of that, they lack the ability to make wise decisions on the proper funding and management of those cultural institutions. Outsourcing to LS&S is a case in point.

    Now, the argument is being made that the library needs to be open seven days a week, but why would Mr. Abed feel that the change needs to be made if he had no experience using the library mornings, evenings, or Saturdays? And since some service cutbacks would have to be made in order to spread out the staff to cover Sundays, which service would Mr. Masson suggest was unnecessary? Would he simply read and agree to the staff report that’s gone through Mr. Epp? Is that all that voters expect from their representatives; a rubber stamp for the City Manager? So, a company like LS&S would only have to convince one person of the value of outsourcing a service, or similarly adding a new service, say replacing a playground at Kit Carson Park with a Frisbee golf course, or cutting a service, such as the East Valley Branch Library. It makes little sense to have a mayor and city council if they don’t listen to us and aren’t able to provide their own experienced input.

  2. Virginia Abushanab says:

    I very much respect the combined wisdom of these three women, all of whom served our city admirably as library directors for a total of 26 years. For the Council members, several of whom I doubt have stepped foot in the library in years, to think their knowledge of running a library outstrips these women’s, is not only ignorant but shamelessly arrogant.

    Living in a city with a first-class library (or at least as close as we can get to that) raises civic pride as well as property values. I, myself, would consider it a negative factor in considering moving to Escondido to learn that the library is one of a handful in the whole country which has chosen to run its library on the cheap. Makes us look like hillbillies.

    And isn’t it the City Council’s responsibility to represent the wishes of the community at large? A small cadre of volunteers set up a table outside the library for 30 hours over the last two weeks and gathered 1488 signatures of people opposed to this idea. Almost to a person, everybody we approached signed on happily. Their usual response was, “What?!” Another 800 or so signatures have been generated on line. The Library Board of Trustees at two different meetings listened to over 50 residents, all of whom (except one) spoke against the proposal. (The Board voted against it unanimously, five to zero.) The staff of 53 employees and the roster of 220 volunteers (who give over 29,000 hours of free help to the library last year) are all against it.

    So, one is led to ask in disbelief: how can this so poorly thought-out and so hugely unpopular proposal be taken seriously by the City Council, especially when, by their own estimate, the savings, at most (not deducting for the departure of most of those volunteers), are about one quarter of one percent? Makes one wonder.

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