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Outsourcing and Privatization: Policy Development and Chronology

Overview of Chronology

ALA's policy B.8.8, Privatization of Publicly Funded Libraries, evolved over a period of four years and included the work of two separate task forces and broad analysis and review of practices of contracting out services and functions in libraries. See below for a chronological history of this policy.


ALA President Barbara J. Ford appointed a task force to advise the association on issues related to outsourcing, subcontracting and privatization of library services; gather data, examine the literature on outsourcing and evaluate the impact of outsourcing on library services and operations; to examine past ALA positions and determine how these issues related to the ALA Code of Ethics and other association policies, and to provide ALA Council with a comprehensive report with recommendations at the 1999 Midwinter Meeting. LaDonna T. Kienitz chaired the 14-member ALA Outsourcing Task Force.


The Outsourcing Task Force submitted its report as 1998-99 Council Documents 24 and 24.1.

This report offered these definitions:

  • Outsourcing is the contracting to external companies or organizations, functions that would otherwise be performed by library employees.

  • Privatization is the shifting of policy making and the management of library services or the responsibility for the performance of core library services in their entirety, from the public to the private sector.

  • Core services are those professional activities that define the profession of librarianship. These include collection development and organization; gathering and providing information; making the collection accessible to all library users; providing assistance in use of the collection; and providing oversight and management of these activities.

It is acknowledged that the distinction between the terms "outsourcing" and "privatization" are not exact and are subject to arbitrary interpretations. Within the context of this report, the Task Force has utilized the term "outsourcing" for contracting for specific services; and the term "privatization" when the responsibility for day-to-day management of a library or for establishing or altering policies that affect the delivery of service, is delegated to an external commercial agency.

Council adopted the following motions:

That ALA reaffirms the following fundamental values of libraries in the context of discussing outsourcing and privatization of library services. These values include:

That libraries are an essential public good and are fundamental institutions in democratic societies;

That intellectual freedom is a basic democratic privilege, and that ALA defends the right of library users to read, seek information and speak freely, as guaranteed by the First Amendment; and

That any outsourcing activities in libraries must be compatible with ALA advocacy of policies that support libraries as democratic institutions serving people of all ages, income levels and races, and providing the range of information resources needed to live, learn, govern and work. (1998-99 CD#24.1, Motion #1)

That the respective ALA units should be encouraged to develop decision-making guidelines for libraries and jurisdictions at the local level, specifically that divisions, with input from appropriate units such as round tables, develop policies and standards to assist local libraries addressing outsourcing and privatization issues. (1998-99 CD#24.1, Motion # 2)

That the Intellectual Freedom Committee is directed to review Council Documents 24 and 24.1 and determine appropriate action. (1998-99 CD#24.1, Motion #3) See the Intellectual Freedom Committee response.

The proposed policy statements recommended by the Task Force were not adopted. However, the recommendation that ALA commission a formal study on the impact of outsourcing and privatization on library services and management was endorsed. A contract for the study was made with the School of Library and Information Studies, Texas Woman’s University, Robert S. Martin, Ph.D., Principal Investigator.


At the ALA Annual Conference, the ALA Council voted to receive CD#59, The Impact of Outsourcing and Privatization on Library Services and Management, the report prepared under contract to the Texas Woman's University. In addition, Council directed the ALA president to identify appropriate mechanisms to bring together guidelines developed by divisions and committees and making them broadly available to be reviewed for elements of values and to develop definitions of outsourcing as a management tool versus privatization.


At the ALA Annual Conference, the ALA Executive Board submitted to Council its Recommendation on Privatization of Publicly Funded Libraries, which was based on a memorandum prepared by Liz Bishoff and Sally Reed. The ALA Council voted to adopt the following policy statement concerning privatization:

ALA affirms that publicly funded libraries should remain directly accountable to the publics they serve. Therefore, the American Library Association opposes the shifting of policy making and management oversight of library services from the public to the private for-profit sector.

The policy remains in the ALA Policy Manual as ALA Policy B.8.8 (formerly 52.7): Privatization of Publicly Funded Libraries.