Public Libraries for Profit





In late October, Jackson County, Ore., re-opened the doors to 15 of its public libraries after a lack of funds had forced them shut on April 6 - the largest library closure in U.S. history. However, as patrons returned to the bookshelves in the southern Oregon county, they learned that their libraries are now under private, for-profit management.

Oregon suffered a $150 million budget shortfall - and Jackson County a $23 million loss - in fiscal year 2007, after the federal government failed to renew a $400 million annual subsidy designed to help rural communities suffering from the decline in timber-logging revenue. Though Congress eventually extended the funding by one year, Jackson County commissioners, strapped for cash, voted to outsource library services to the Maryland-based Library Systems & Services (LSSI), which specializes in library management. Founded in 1981, the company initially operated federal libraries during President Reagan's era of privatizing government services and contracts. LSSI now privately manages more than 50 public libraries nationwide.

Companies like LSSI focus on counties that are desperate to keep their public agencies afloat but lack sufficient funds to do so. In the case of Jackson County, officials offered LSSI a five-year contract worth $3 million annually, with an additional $1.3 million reserved for building maintenance. The deal cuts in almost half what the county previously spent.

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