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Keep it private or public?
Manteca leaders may weigh in on debate
A young reader looks through books at the Manteca Library. - photo by Bulletin file photo
Privatizing operations of the Stockton-San Joaquin County Library System is being pondered by county leaders trying to wrestle with future budgets with the expectation they will soon have inadequate funds to cover basic services.

The Manteca City Council may interject its two cents on privatization as far as whether it is a move that should be considered when they meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.

An analysis of the library operations will be presented at Tuesday’s meeting. Councilman John Harris sponsored the agenda item after members of the Friends of the Manteca Library asked the council to take a position on the proposal being conspired by the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors. The Manteca Friends group is against privatization.

Library Systems & Services (LSSI) contends they can use technology, private sector management savvy, group buying power, and non-public sector retirement and benefit packages to reduce library costs and improve services including expanding hours.

The Manteca Friends of the Library essentially believes such a proposal is essentially hogwash. Friends spokesman Tom Wilson at the last council meeting noted, “The promise of delivering more with less money doesn’t make sense.”

Wilson presented the council two weeks ago with a copy of a petition signed by more than 300 people opposing privatization of the library.

An attorney obtained by the Concerned Citizens Coalition of Stockton as well as Friends of the Stockton Public Library has told the Board of Supervisors in a July 7 letter that before privatization can take place they believe state law requires a thorough study as required under provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act. The attorney also raised questions about other legal ramifications of such a move including violating the state education code, planning and zoning law, the Public Records Act and the open-meeting law as well.

The letter also contends LSSI, a Maryland-based company, has a “virtual monopoly in the library privatization business.”

LSSI, for its part, references success stories elsewhere including Riverside County where it has done exactly what it has told the San Joaquin County supervisors what they would do - provide more services for less money.

The City of Manteca does contribute some money toward additional hours at the Manteca library branch. The county and City of Stockton provide the bulk of the funds to staff and operate the library system while cities such as Manteca, Escalon, Ripon and Tracy provide the building and its maintenance for their respective branches. Lodi has an independent library system.