LSSI Cut Costs in Half (and Hours Too)

shell_gameIn April of 2007 Jackson County, Oregon closed fifteen of its library branches due to budget problems, the biggest library closure in United States history. In October of the same year, it re-opened all branches under a contract with LSSI.

[Note: Bold Italic emphasis is mine in the article excerpts below]

In his article (“Public Libraries For Profit“) about the Jackson County experience, Akito Yoshikane writes:

LSSI … typically downsizes staff, centralizes accounting and human resource services, and buys books in bulk, all while passing down administrative costs—sometimes as high as 15 percent—to patrons as general handling fees . (The company does not disclose its earnings.)

“They operate entirely with our tax dollars but they have no transparency,” says Buck Eichler, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 in Jackson County, whose organization represented the public library employees. “They’re completely secretive about their books. We no longer know where our tax dollars are going.”

Although the total cost of running the libraries was cut, so, too, were library hours. Now, most libraries in Jackson County are open at half the normal operating times and are closed on Sundays, totaling only 24 hours a week, down from the 40-plus hours before the April shutdown. The exceptions are the libraries in Ashland and Talent, which will stay open for 40 hours and 36 hours a week, respectively, after local residents recently voted in favor of a levy on monthly utility surcharges in order to pay for the extra hours.”

Also writing about the Jackson County experience in April of 2008 (“Special Report: Should the public library no longer be public?“), Chloe Gotsis quotes employees of the Jackson County Library Foundation, by that time run by LSSI:

The cost to run the library is half of what it was before, but of course they are open half the amount of hours they were before,” said Olney, adding that the Jackson County Library Foundation has been run by LSSI for six months.

Amy Kinard, an employee in the Jackson County Library Foundation for 17 years who was rehired after LSSI took over in the county’s Ashland branch, said the library staff rather than the patrons have experienced the brunt of the transitional takeover to LSSI.

“All the people who work for the library now do not have the same benefits,” said Kinard. “I don’t have a retirement program anymore. We are no longer public employees, we are now private employees.”

Other counties reportedly had less than pleasurable dealings with LSSI, like Fargo, N.D., who ended its agreement with LSSI in 2003 on the alleged grounds that LSSI was not paying its bills on time.

Naturally, this question arises: If LSSI cut Jackson County’s library costs in half by cutting the library hours in half and raising fees, then why couldn’t the county have achieved the same cost savings by cutting the hours in half and raising fees itself?

Such a strategy is disagreeable to consider, but since that’s what they ended-up with anyway, you have to wonder whether the contract with LSSI was really necessary?

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