Community rallies against library outsourcing plan

Community rallies against library outsourcing plan
Members of the Save the Library Coalition unveiled an “Unwelcome” mat on Sept. 16 in response to the city’s plan to outsource library operations to Library Systems and Services (LS&S). City Council members have yet to sign the contract due to angry constituents. Photo by Rebecca Sykes

ESCONDIDO — As residents waited for the Escondido library to open on Sept. 16, protestors were setting up to rally against the decision to outsource to Library System and Services.

LS&S, a Maryland-based company, is the country’s largest library management company and already owns 83 libraries across the country. LS&S says the privatization saves taxpayer money.

LS&S has operated an Oregon library located in Jackson County for 10 years. An assessment on the quality of LS&S’ library management was troublesome to the members of the coalition in Escondido.

Some concerns of the Escondido constituents included that the library in Jackson County failed to meet 63 percent of the minimum “essential specifications” for overall performance, 28 percent of the funds given to LS&S fall into a category of “other” and the uses of these funds are unknown and the library services underserved the Latino community, among others.

“Based on the calendar of upcoming programs, there are no storytimes in Spanish (there is outreach to Spanish-speaking childcare). The system offers a Book Club in the Bag collection, but only English titles are offered. There are definite holes in the Spanish-language collection … ” stated the report for the Jackson County, Oregon, library.

Escondido City Councilwoman Olga Diaz spoke to the members and protestors outside the library. The crowd chanted “Olga” as she made her way in front of the crowd.

“The very first place I visited in this city, when I moved here was this library,” she said. “The morning I woke up as a new resident in Escondido, I came to this library with my daughter. And I’ve kept coming back. It has become an integral part of our family.”

Diaz continued her speech by discussing the issue with LS&S taking over the Escondido library.

“This library is at risk now because somebody decided that they wanted to make money on our library,” she said. “There is one company in this entire country that acts as a predatory sales company and they go into troubled libraries wherever they can find them and offer shiny contracts and say ‘don’t worry about it we will fix everything’ and find elected officials who can’t get their heads out of their ass.”

The City Council voted in favor of LS&S taking over the library in August, but many taxpayers are against it. The members of the coalition created a petition and have reached more than 3,000 signatures against the outsourcing.

Laura Hunter, organizer of the movement to save the Escondido library from being outsourced by a Maryland company, believes libraries serve many functions in a community.

“There was a reverend that gave a great statement — libraries are sacred spaces, it’s where everyone can come, it’s a safe place, it’s a place of learning, a place to improve yourself,” Hunter said. “It should be held as a sacred space and it should be held by and for the benefit of the public.”

Members of the Save Our Escondido Library Coalition gathered in front of the library and replaced the “Welcome” mat in front of the library with a 60-foot-long “Unwelcome” poster as a message about the City Council’s choice to allow LS&S to manage library. The poster was created by the members of the coalition.

Diana Fink, a Fallbrook resident and an English professor, came to support the cause to save the library.

Fink started the rally with a speech and the crowd began to boo when she brought up the Escondido City Council.

“Do you know what hubris is? The arrogance of power. Does that fit?” Fink said. “Have they been in office too long? OK, what are you going to do about it? Vote them out! OK, who is going to step up and run against them?”

In the crowd Vanessa Valenzuela of District 2 raised her hand to inform the crowd she is running for City Council next year.

“I was shocked that my council member in District 2, after hearing all the testimony and the data submitted, didn’t listen to the community,” Valenzuela said.

“That was shocking to me. They’ve made questionable budget decisions. But this (the library vote) was the moment I decided I’m really tired of feeling like they are not listening to the community.”

Valenzuela has been coming to the Escondido library since she was 9 years old, has volunteered and has taken her children to this library as well.

“I have a special place in my heart for this library,” she said.

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