Yesterday's post demonstrated one thing that newspapers have known for a long time - controversy sells! Over the past two days that post has gotten more hits than all but one of my over 500 posts to date, and as I recall that one was pretty controversial too.
I have to confess, however, that part of me has been wondering why this issue is generating the kind of heat that it is.
I think part of the cause is that the fires on both sides are being stoked by broad-brush statements that are based on beliefs and assumptions rather than facts.
When the CEO of LSSI says many public libraries "...are all about job security. That’s why the profession is nervous about us. You can go to a library for 35 years and never have to do anything and then have your retirement" he is not reflecting my experience that the vast majority of public library employees work extremely hard to deliver excellent service despite short-staffing and budget pressures.
When the Director of the County of Los Angeles Public Library says “There is no local connection,” she is disregarding the fact that many LSSI employees live in or near the communities served by the libraries where they work, while many COLAPL employees commute significant distances to work in communities that are very different from where they live.
When someone says (as I have heard several times from different people) that when the profit motive is introduced true freedom of information may be lost I wonder where the evidence is to support that statement and think about the late Gordon Conable, an LSSI Executive who was a fierce defender of intellectual freedom who served as President of the American Library Association's Intellectual Freedom to Read Foundation and who was called “...an unsurpassed champion of intellectual freedom, a wise and generous mentor to many, and a consummate librarian who was a true leader of our profession,” by Library Journal editor John Berry.
It seems to me that blanket statements both fan the flames and mask the subleties and complexities of a debate such as this.
It also seems to me that both public and private organizations are capable of doing great good or great harm (just remember recent events in the city of Bell for a reminder that being a public servant does not automatically equate to sterling character). The difference is in the quality of leadership, the systems of accountability, and the transparency with which they conduct their business.
Finally, this issue also made me think about a question library consultant Joan Frye-Williams asked in relation to a totally different issue at the Southern California Library Cooperative strategic review last week - "Are we arguing over a value or a method?"
It seems to me that the fundamental values of public librararies - access to information, intellectual freedom, confidentiality of library records, etc. - are not being questioned by either side. What is being questioned is the method by which they are being delivered in a given community.
Yesterday Genesis Hansen made this point in a comment on my blog post - "The question is: what's best for the community? For some, LSSI will be the answer. I'm okay with that."
I'm ok with that too...
And with that I'm off to the Eureka Leadership Institute for 8 days of learning and personal growth. I'm not sure whether I'll get a chance to write any posts while I am there...but if I do they probably won't be about contracting out library services!