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Manteca leaders may take stance on privatization of library system
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Manteca’s elected leaders could weigh in on the San Joaquin County proposal to privatize the library at their Oct.  5 meeting.

Councilman John Harris is having the issue placed on the agenda after Friends of the Manteca Library representative Tom Wilson presented the council Tuesday with copies of a petition signed by 332 people opposing privatization.

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors as well as the Stockton City Council are considering turning over the management and staffing of the countywide library system that excludes the City of Lodi to the privately owned Library Systems & Services (LSSI).

LSSI has submitted a proposal they contend will allow them to reduce library costs and improve services.

“The promise of delivering more with less money doesn’t make sense,” Wilson told the council.

The Manteca Friends of the Library has come out in opposition to the privatization plan. The various Friends groups throughout the library system believe the only way a private firm can obtain savings to increase hours and start stockpiling a reserve is to cut staff and reduce salaries which they equate to reduced levels of service.

Wilson also believes the strategy ultimately will come at the loss of a universal access to the library by making it more difficult for the less fortunate and unemployed to fully use library services.

“Running a library is one of the fundamentals of government,” Wilson said.

Massive budget shortfalls for both the City of Stockton and county are prompting both entities to rethink library services. The partnership is the backbone of the Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library that provides almost all of the funding for staffing and maintaining the collection of various branches in Stockton, Manteca, Lathrop, Ripon, Escalon, and Tracy.  The cities in each instance provide the building, the cost of maintenance and pick up the utilities. Lodi is the only city with its own independent library.

Manteca does have longer hours than other branches as the City of Manteca kicks in additional funding for that purpose.

In June during the comments section of the council meeting, Harris had called for the revival of the city’s library task force so that Manteca could have input or - at the very least - weigh proposals being made to see if the city has any options. At the time Councilman Steve DeBrum said that while he had no stomach for privatization, he believes the city’s interests are best served gathering all possible information before either making a decision or backing a plan of action.

LSSI is proposing to reduce costs at least 21 percent and extend branch hours by as much as 47 percent if they are awarded a contract to take over the San Joaquin County operated libraries.

Currently it costs the county $5.2 million for 209 hours of library service a week. LSSI has indicated it could provide 223 hours of service each week at the eight county branches for $3,789,707 or 328 hours for $4,478,707.

LSSI has submitted two proposals to operate the eight county libraries as a standalone operation.

The LSSI proposal also notes the savings from running both the city and county libraries could range between $1.8 million and $3 million a year depending upon whether hours are significantly increased. In that case, the firm said the library - under elected leaders’ directive - would have a reserve to spend money for large purchases, repairs and the refurbishment of the library facilities, systems and furnishings.

Among new technology that LSSI said the county might want to consider obtaining with future reserves include:

•networked printing capability to centralize printing in each library and eliminate wasted paper and ink.

•computer scheduling system to enable customers to reserve computers online.

•a library cash management system to allow customers to pay library fines and fees over the Internet and to use credit cards.

•radio-frequency identification technology to provide more accurate inventory plus to enable the use of self-checkout stations.

•more and better use of self-check technology.

•a systematic replacement of computer software to resemble computers that customers use at home as well as to eliminate computer breakdowns and computers being out of service.

LSSI already operates public library systems in Riverside County and Shasta County.

The firm is located in, Maryland but each library it oversees is managed locally. One way they reduce operating costs is to use their headquarters office for support such as human resources, accounting, and technology.