In defense of librarians


I feel for the librarians in Santa Clarita, Calif., as their library system sells their jobs out from under them.

In case you haven't heard - Santa Clarita, part of the Los Angeles County Library System is being privatized.  Yes, that's right, the most American of institutions is being outsourced.

Library Systems & Services, LLC (LSSI) is a private company based in Maryland that, according to the company's website, specializies in "implementing cost-saving efficiencies, locating un-tapped funds, harnessing today's electronic resources, and creating community outreach programs."

That's sounds pretty good to local government officials who are looking to cut their budgets.

But what is Santa Clarita--and the other municipalities that LSSI serves - really getting when they privatize their public library? The elimination of unionization, pensions and a good portion of their staff.  Plus, a decreased acquisitions budget.

In a recent New York Times article on patron anger towards privatizing Santa Clarita's library, LSSI CEO Frank A. Pezzanite smugly implies that libraries shouldn't be regarded in such high esteem. "Somehow they have been put in the category of a sacred organization," he said.

Well, you know what Frank, there's a reason for that. Public libraries have been a constant in this country for more than a hundred years, providing information to the masses. For free.  Librarians do the job that they do because they feel that everyone should have access to information and books (not to mention the Internet). Rich or poor, the public library has been a refuge for generations. How do you privatize an institution like that?

The most appalling thing about this privatization is how Pezzanite views public library employees. According to the New York Times, Pezzanite thinks that public librarians don't really do anything. Or at least the unionized librarians don't.

"You can go to a library for 35 years and never have to do anything and then have your retirement," Pezzanite said.

I find it appalling that anyone, but particularly someone who claims to be a library professional, would think that librarians don't do anything but sit around and read books all day. I guess staffing the customer services desks doesn't count as work?  Or perhaps helping people with their resumes, troubleshooting computers and printers, scheduling and performing adult and children's programming, maintaining the collection, attending statewide library association meetings, conducting trainings (both for the public and for staff), and providing materials' advisory services — among a great many other tasks — doesn't count as work.

Or maybe it's just women's work, so it doesn't count.

And I find it particularly disturbing that, in a time when the underpriviledged need libraries more than ever, Mr. Pezzanite would portray librarians and libraries in such a light.  And in the New York Times!

I understand that he's trying to sell his product.  However, I can't help but think making librarians seem like a bunch of lazy lous in a national newspaper in a time when libraries are closing left and right and the people need them more than ever will hurt Mr. Pezzanite's business. Who's to say that a cash-strapped municipality, one that can't afford the often multi-million-dollar pricetag attached to LSSI, won't just close its libraries. I mean, the librarians don't really do anything anyway, right?  Can't everyone just Google it?

The answer is no. Librarians are highly skilled researchers with resources that go beyond Google. Not to mention that not everyone can afford a computer. Or Internet access. Therefore making it impossible to Google anything.  It's called the digital divide and the only way to bridge it is to keep our public libraries public.

M. Hepler is a librarian and lives in Maryland.

Photo: (Librarian by Day/CC)



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  • Truly a sad day if this happens ill fight it tooth and nail with my local libary.Thanks for a great story/article

    Posted by martin, 10/14/2010 8:58am (5 years ago)

  • Thank you for your article on the crises of Santa Clarita's Public Library. At stake, as your article implies, is the very heart and soul of any community - the breath and scope of the literacy of the community and its youth. I say this because one can easily imagine what books, periodicals,etc., will be made available to the public and what level of censorship will be applied. As a resident of Santa Clarita, I should let you know that this city is now in the grip of the Tea Bag movement and its Minutemen supporters ( I call it the New California capital of Racism) who have intimidated a moderate republican majority into submission. Ergo - the betrayal the peoples right to read.
    jim soliz

    Posted by jim soliz, 10/12/2010 5:13pm (5 years ago)

  • I'm just gonna throw this out there but it's Ms. Hepler lol...

    Posted by Ms. Hepler's boyfriend, 10/10/2010 8:28pm (5 years ago)

  • As a male Librarian, I particularly enjoyed your "Or maybe because it's just women's work." comment.

    Posted by Clockwork, 10/10/2010 7:48pm (5 years ago)

  • This rush to privatization has to stop. All privatization does is introduce the profit motive into the picture and we all know where that leads.

    Doesn't the phrase "public library" have such a nice ring to it.

    A privately run library is just one step away to charging a fee for use of the library. No one can want that, unless he has stock in the company running the library.

    Posted by Ronald Humphrey, 10/10/2010 8:00am (5 years ago)

  • I enjoyed both Mr. Hepler's article and Ms. Ryall's comment. It is also a fact that it is local librarians who are most likely to be the center of contoversies over book and education content and for that reason the front line of community defense of civil liberties.

    Posted by Dave Cunningham, 10/07/2010 2:44pm (5 years ago)

  • Public Libraries are the government institution I use the most,
    perhaps half or more of my freetime I'm at the library.
    The idea of a private library, no matter how they paint it up, distresses me greatly. it would be the first step towards charging admittance and the like.

    Posted by CrazyJake, 10/07/2010 2:32pm (5 years ago)

  • And your comments about a librarian's role are even more relevant in children's library services. Children don't read book reviews, have no reference skills, and vary tremendously both in reading level and in their ability to tell you what they need.

    The youth librarian has to know her collection thoroughly, relate well to kids, parents, and teachers, and storytelling and book-talking skills are almost essential. And it's a life-long children's librarian telling you.

    Posted by Gail Ryall, 10/07/2010 12:32am (5 years ago)

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