Outsourcing & Privitization

[last update 22 September 2003]


The (ad hoc) Outsourcing Task Force defined Outsourcing as "the contracting to external companies or organizations, functions that would otherwise be performed by library employees." Privatization was defined as "the shifting of policy making and the management of library services or the responsibility for the performance of core library services in the entirety, from the public to the private sector." ALA interest has encompassed a range of concerns, including (a) access to government information, (b) intellectual freedom, and (c) impact on core library services.

KEY ACTION/PRIORITY AREAS: Personnel Resources, Intellectual Freedom, Library Services/Development/Technology
RELATED ISSUES: Affirmative Action, Freedom to Read/Freedom of Expression, Library Funding, Library Personnel



  • Outsourcing is an ongoing concern


  • ALA Office for Human Resource Development & Recruitment/HRDR Advisory Committee
  • ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom/Intellectual Freedom Committee
  • Library Administration & Management Association
  • Other ALA Divisions


  • ALA - Allied Professional Association


  • 1988 - ALA Council urged Congress to bar further contracting out of federal libraries and document depositories, urged OMB to remove library operations from it's a-76 listof commercial operations, and asked the President's Commission on Privatization to omit libraries and depositories from its list of activities recommended for privatization.
  • 1997 - In response to member concerns, the ALA Executive Board appointed an (ad hoc) Outsourcing Task Force charged to gather information, review the ALA policy context for outsourcing decisions, advise the association on issues related to outsourcing or privatization, and prepare a report with recommendations for review by the ALA Council at the 1999 Midwinter Meeting.
  • 1999 - In response to the Outsourcing Task Force report, ALA Council reaffirmed the following fundamental values of libraries:
    • That libraries are an essential public good and are fundamental institutions in a democratic society;
    • 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.
      ALA Council also directed the Intellectual Freedom Committee to provide an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights as it related to outsourcing and privatization, and encouraged various ALA units to develop decision-making guidelines for libraries and jurisdictions at the local level.  A recommendation that ALA commission a formal study on the impact of outsourcing and privatization on library services and management was later approved on recommendation of BARC.
  • 2000 - ALA IFC identified a "checklist of issues that need attention in any consideration of, or contracting for outside provision of services or performance of functions for the library."  (1999-2000 CD. #19.3)
  • 2000 - PLA developed Outsourcing: A Public Library Checklist
  • 2000 - ALA received a commissioned study on the impact of outsourcing and privatization on library services and management from Texas Woman's University School of Library and Information Studies.  The study focused on outsourcing, noting that the definition of privatization adopted by the Outsourcing Task Force (see SCOPE) "rendered the establishment of operational definitions impossible."   The study team found "no evidence that outsourcing per se represents a threat to library governance, or to the role of the library in protecting the First Amendment rights of the public...[and] "no evidence that outsourcing per se has had a negative impact on library services and management...Instances where problems have arisen subsequent to decisions to outsource aspects of library operations and functions appear to be attributable to inadequate planning, poor contracting processes, or ineffective management of contracts."  The report incorporated advice to libraries considering outsourcing.
  • 2000 - Following extensive debate, ALA Council moved "That the ALA, working collaboratively with other appropriate agencies, should encourage and foster further research into the impact of outsourcing and privatization on library services and management."
  • 2001 - ALA Council adopted the following policy: " The American Library Association opposes the shifting of policy-making and management of library services from the public to the private sector."
  • 2001 - Several ALA units, led by IFC, formed a task force on outsourcing to coordinate association publications on outsourcing and privatization.  In 2003, the task force was disbanded.  Materials are available at www.ala.org/oif/iftoolkits/outsourcing.


Issue Summaries

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