Jun 24 2011

Oakland Residents Talk About Starting a Private Library

A group of Montclair residents are organizing and calling for the creation of a private library rather than lose their branch of the Oakland Public Library.  It is not clear whether the City of Oakland would rent the library building to a private library association, or whether an alternative location would have to be found.

Since 1996, the Riverside County library system has been operated by a private contractor.  Its network of 33 branch libraries and two bookmobiles serves a million people, excluding the City of Riverside, which has its own library system.  It seems to have been the first library system in the U.S. to outsource its management.  A few years ago, the city of Redding and the Shasta County library system also signed a contract for private management, prior to the opening of a new library in Redding.

These contracts for private management sparked proposed legislation from the California Assemby.  Assembly Bill 438 would establish new requirements before a  public library system in California could contract for private management.  The requirements would be:

• Select a contractor after a competitive bidding process.
• Give four straight weeks of public notice before enacting a change of library management, doubling the current public notice requirement.
• Prove through a broad analysis that a change saves the city or county money.
• Show that the cost savings are not simply a factor of lower pay for the private company’s employees.
• Require an audit of current expenditures before hiring a library contractor charging more than $100,000 a year.
• Ensure that the public library employees will not lose their jobs.
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Although AB 438 was approved in the Assembly by a vote of 44-28, it has not yet been taken up by the Senate.

An opinion opposed to AB 438 is available at the City Journal website by Matthew Cunningham.

The Montclair branch library supporters are not contemplating a contract with a private library management corporation.  Their little library is too small to interest private library contractors. Rather, they are considering operating the existing library with volunteers until Oakland has the funds to run it once more.  Many complex issues, such as borrowing items from other libraries, are not yet part of the concept.

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