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Local leaders in Stockton, Calif., considered privatizing but ultimately decided against it, in part because of concerns raised by city residents, Ms. Raphael said.

Those misgivings may have been driven by controversies in Fargo, N.D., and Jersey City, N.J., along with other communities that signed contracts with LSSI only to terminate them early. In Fargo, the library board voted in 2003 to cancel the two-year deal after just eight months, citing concerns about mounting bills, according to the trade publication Library Journal.

Another reason communities should think twice before making the switch, according to the ALA, is that salaries of library workers are matters of public record while the wages of private employees are not subject to right-to-know laws.

Disputes also have erupted over the definition of the services. LSSI refers to them as “outsourcing” and rejects the term privatization, while Ms. Raphael views outsourcing as the use of contractors for tasks such as placing plastic jackets on books or cleaning restrooms.

Economic priorities

Regardless, some communities see their libraries as more appealing targets for savings than police departments, fire departments or other agencies that provide essential services.

Since the economic downturn of 2008, Ms. Raphael said, the idea has only grown in popularity.

LSSI doesn’t seek out clients. Instead, the company waits for cash-strapped governments to request its services, said CEO Brad King. He told The Washington Times that LSSI typically signs a three- or five-year contract with a local government, and the price often depends on what officials think their taxpayers can afford. LSSI, he said, makes a deliberate effort to keep familiar faces behind librarians’ desks.

“The company offered jobs to more than 98 percent of the incumbent staff members who applied,” he said. “Of those offers, more than 95 percent were accepted.”

In most cases, he said, LSSI matches or exceeds salaries.

Frank A. Pezzanite, who co-founded the company in 1981 and now serves as executive chairman, was far more caustic in a New York Times article last year during a fight over LSSI’s contract to run the library system in Santa Clarita, Calif., the fourth-largest city in Los Angeles County.

Mr. Pezzanite told the newspaper that many municipal libraries are “atrocious.”

“Their policies are all about job security,” he said. “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. We’re not running our company that way. You come to us, you’re going to have to work.”

While some communities have resisted LSSI, others have embraced the concept.

The central Texas city of Leander partnered with LSSI from Day One. The city opened its library, staffed by LSSI employees, in the spring of 2007, said Steve Bosak, director of Leander’s Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees the library system.

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