Escondido, CA

Keep the Escondido Public Library public

Olga Diaz

The City of Escondido has operated a professionally staffed public library since 1898 but suddenly it is at risk of substantial change.

You should be concerned and even a little mad.  The council majority gave direction in a non-public forum, to explore outsourcing the library to a private company.  Although I insisted on an open public process, staff has already met several times with the vendor, contending that the public does not need to be involved until the review is completed. Reference to this effort is tucked away in public documents where presumably no one would notice – all the more reason why you should be suspicious of how the City of Escondido navigates this issue.

City budget constraints have repeatedly led Escondido officials to view our library as a financial burden. In 2011, the Escondido City Council majority voted to close a branch library.  The vote came about as part of a budget discussion – not a discussion about library services specifically. The topic was obscured in a tangential agenda item with little public scrutiny or opportunity for discussion. No other City in San Diego County closed a public library during tough financial times. Interestingly, the library budget represents only 3% of our entire general fund budget. Significant savings can be found elsewhere. I’ll come back to this point.

I am passionate about public libraries because I recognize the value added to my life, personal and professional, by library activities and resources. Libraries in general are a critical part of public infrastructure that provide access to knowledge through technology, workshops, career exploration, literacy programs, books and most certainly the professional staff that engage with community members each day.  A study by the American Library Association found that 94% of American’s believe a public library improves the quality of life in a community.  By looking to outsource the public library to a private company, the City Council is signaling a lack of commitment to quality of life standards in Escondido.

Libraries were designed and intended to be funded by public taxation. Libraries represent a collective public investment in organized accessible knowledge. Government provides public libraries so one or all can use them to the betterment of society.  The private sector only provides libraries for profit.  The company under consideration to operate our library is currently hiring a sales person to “fulfill growth and revenue goals of the organization” and to “close long term multimillion dollar deals” at our expense.  Escondido residents do not pay taxes with the intent to fund private business ventures. Instead, Escondido residents pay taxes for responsive city services including our own truly public library.

As library usage has surged, librarians have proven to be a superior interface for vetting materials and supporting an ever more diverse patronage.  Professional librarians operate the Escondido Public Library.  By outsourcing operations, we would effectively reduce the number of professional librarians and replace them with lesser qualified staff akin to book store clerks.

Finding alternative ways to reduce City expenses should be our first option.  There is plenty of taxpayer money for core services, including libraries, if elected officials and bureaucrats stop confusing voters by shuffling their money around and diverting it to pet projects.  Hundreds of thousands of your dollars have been spent indulging the Mayor’s vision of a new business park.  Millions more have been spent on law suits for a long list of foolish court battles that ultimately placed Escondido on the losing side.  Every year, we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants, lobbyists, and memberships to organizations that do not provide a return on our investment.  A recent change in the structure of City budget documents obscures these amounts from public scrutiny but that’s a discussion for a future column.

The Escondido Public Library is one of the most heavily used community assets. For over a decade we have failed to prioritize expansion of the library.  A voter approved bond will be necessary to follow through with the slow moving vision of a new state-of-the-art library in an expanded Grape Day Park.  If the City Council majority struggles to see the value of operating a public library, then I question how any taxpayer could trust city officials by supporting a large library bond measure for a private company to operate.

Regardless of your thoughts about global, national or state politics – you should care about this specific community issue and take the opportunity to engage with local government.  I plan to do everything I can to protect our public library but I cannot do it alone.

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

8 responses to “Keep the Escondido Public Library public”

  1. Jacob Silva says:

    Absolutely agree! Thank you Olga Diaz for shining a light on this murky endeavor. Taxpayer dollars should never be used for private profit. I am extremely disappointed that the City Council majority would have such disdain for the citizens of Escondido as to even consider this move, let alone try to hide it from the public.

  2. Meryl Burke says:

    The point of the article and of the entire concept of farming out the public library to a private organization is summarized very well in this statement by Olga Diaz. To quote: If the City Council majority struggles to see the value of operating a public library, then I question how any taxpayer could trust city officials by supporting a large library bond measure for a private company to operate.

  3. Michael Concannon says:

    While I don’t agree with your article in its entirety, I do agree with your thrust of retaining the library as a city entity.
    It seems to me that even looking into an expense approximating 3% of the budget is assbackwards. Let’s start at no less than the 50% expense level. Surely significant sums cAn be saved at that level without eliminating an entire program,

  4. Wendy Jacobs says:

    how is it that a public entity like the library board is allowed to ignore bagley-keene/open meeting act?
    if you don’t know what that is, your local librarian can help you.

  5. Kathleen Burge says:

    If Escondido is not seeking to inform voters or invite public comments concerning privatizing the library it seems then to not want its citizens to be aware of or understand what such privatization means. Shame on our representatives for obfuscating and confusing. Who is it exactly they believe they serve? Thank you for your courage Olga, and for shining a light on this threat to a precious public service.

    • patricia borchmann says:

      I strongly agree with comment by Kathleen Burge, and the Commentary article by Olga Diaz. While City officials and Escondido Council majority got an ‘unfair head start’ to stage plans for Library privitization and outsourcing by Library Systems and Services, public
      Public stakeholders in Escondido are not impressed by LSS, or the vulture capitalism culture that would diminish ‘our community’, our choices and unique needs among our community where diversity is celebrated.
      The ‘claims’ for costsavings by LSS through buying books in bulk, economizing through efficiency, would depersonalize depth of meaningful relationships between community, students, users of all ages, ability levels, language, income levels, or education levels.
      In Escondido, for over a century Escondido Public Library consistently provides highly valued programs and services to everyone in Escondido, by trained professionals.
      In Escondido, public stakeholders recognize that Escondido Public Library is an opportunity for investment, not just an expense, or a non-essential service. “Informed stakeholders’ value our Public Library, and choose to retain and value the existing public structure and organization. Stakeholders also want Escondido City Council to represent the community they were elected to serve, value Library employees, and apply all unused unallocated Library Operating Funds to support Library services and programs, instead of redirecting unused unallocated funds to Escondido General Fund.

  6. I have lived most of my life in the city of Orange, located in Orange County, but my early years, birth through high school, were spent in Escondido. The library was a weekly adventure. I remember the old Carnegie Library and I can still remember as a little girl running up the stairs and into the front door, turning right to find the fairy tale shelf.
    LSS has a somewhat sketchy history. I understand one community had them come to run the library and then asked them to leave 3 years later. The Orange Public Library had some concerns of LSS coming into town but there was a concerted effort by the library staff and many volunteers to block that possibility. Linda Cundiff is in charge of the Orange Public Library Foundation and can articulate the various efforts that we used in Orange. I know she would be happy to have a conversation should anyone desire that.

  7. Ken Sanford says:

    I am a frequent and committed user of our library and cannot understand how anyone would consider the use of a ‘for profit’ company to manage and operate this public facility as a move toward a cost effective or more efficient operation. This is an insane idea! What kind of people and what motivation creates such a situation? Granted, the council may be required to discuss this issue if it is placed on the meeting agenda, however, the above disclosure provides much food for my imagination. I commend Olga Diaz and hope this matter will be resolved for the benefit of the community and not a ‘for profit’ business interest.

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