I was asked by Alan Gibbons, the children's author and Library campaigner, to take part in a Q&A session with LSSI, the US based private library firm. I, and Alan, submitted some questions to them and they responded below;
I welcome an open debate with them and appreciate the honesty in which they answered some of the questions but i do have a fundamental disagreement with them on the following points;
"However, the private sector is now fully involved in all fields of local government and so it is hard to argue that libraries are any different to other services such as children’s homes, adult day centres, bus services, schools and leisure centres. In all these cases, the development of a mixed economy of providers has driven up standards and improved financial performance and value for money."
I totally oppose any public service being outsourced or privatised and I also refute the claim that a 'mixed economy' improves standards and is better value for money, you only need to read the latest response by UNISON to the governments proposals to reform PFI to see what can go wrong! Also the Southern Cross Care Homes scandal further highlights the dangers.
"Critics have commented on our supposed cost-cutting and supposed poor staff relations. This is despite not one of our UK critics having visited any of our branches in the US. Comments doing the rounds are based only on second hand "evidence" authored by subjective contributors and gleaned from the web."
I would love to visit one of your libraries, hopefully it won't be one in the UK!
I glean my information mainly from newspaper/journal articles but also from campaigners, activists, trade unionists, state senators, council minutes, library staff and users, government reports, the ALA, the FLA, the CLA etc etc etc. I have tried to look on forums and the like for the views and opinions of front line staff employed by LSSI but usually only find comments from senior management!
Concerning the customer service issues raised, I don't doubt any of the observations but my own experience of working in and managing libraries is that this culture has changed due to improvements in training and rigorous implementation of policy and procedures. LSSI, in my opinion, can't offer anything that an experienced library manager isn't already offering!
On the issue of LSSI working with Unions, all i can do is bring to the readers attention the following;
I'm also in regular contact with the SEIU in the US and CUPE in Canada and I also sit on the UNISON London Regional Libraries Forum.
"We understand and respond well to public scrutiny" - i think the library users and campaigners of Santa Clarita, Simi Valley, City of Stockton and San Joaquin County, Wokingham, Ealing, Croydon and Wandsworth might have an opinion on that?