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Escondido privatizes public library

ESCONDIDO, Calif. – The Escondido City Council voted Wednesday night to privatize the city library, ignoring  pleas from hundreds of residents who turned out to oppose the move.

The City Council chamber was packed for the meeting, with the vast majority of attendees clearly concerned about the plan to turn the city's library over to Library Systems and Services, a Maryland-based management company.

"Do not do this," one speaker urged. "This proposed contract is a mistake."

"We're paying a private equity firm here $2.4 million a year," another said. "It's wrong. Please listen to these citizens."

Before the meeting began, library supporters took to the streets to rally opposition to the plan. Opponents said that giving control of the library to a private company will be the beginning of the end.

"We have a Barnes and Noble in town,' said Debbie Resler, Library Supporter. "I happen to be very fond of that store, but we have one. We don't need our library to be another clone of that ."

It’s their policy to buy books in bulk and so kind of a Costco approach to it.   So we’ll be getting the same books they get in Maryland and other libraries they control in the country," said Brenda Townsend, Library Volunteer.

Library Systems and Services already manages 83 libraries across the country. Escondido's city manager argued that adding Escondido to the list will save the city $400,000 a year in operating costs and pension obligations for library employees. But opponents said that the plan is unfair to long-time city librarians, many of whom have served the community for decades. They stand to lose their city pensions and even their jobs.

"Anybody can probably serve french fries at McDonald's but not everyone has the services to run the literacy programs and other things that the librarians are doing," one resident said.

The management company has said that current library employees will be offered jobs. They say they understand community concerns about the privatization plan, but they are committed to preserving the community library.

"We know libraries are the heart and soul of every community," a company representative said. "We're committed to partnering with this community to preserve, safeguard and enhanced this valued treasure."

Opponents of the plan warned that turning over the library to a private management company could threaten a 2018 bond measure to build a new library.

In the end, council members were swayed by the city manager's economic arguments and voted to approve the management contract, becoming the first community in San Diego County to privatize their public library.