A scientific poll of Kern County residents’ level of satisfaction with the county’s library system shows a high degree of approval of the status quo and narrow opposition to the idea of handing those services over to a private company.
The poll was conducted by Price Research, which in August queried 600 randomly chosen county residents by phone.
The results cast an interesting light on a debate that has been raging since March.
Kern County supervisors, earlier this year, proposed privatizing Library Department operations to Library Systems & Services LLC, the largest and, apparently, only provider of library outsourcing services.
But in March, after months of talks with LSSI, supervisors pulled plans for a formal information gathering process off the table after they were hit with a wave of heated opposition from library supporters.
Instead, supervisors voted to launch a public outreach and survey process designed to gauge the public’s temperament on privatization.
Thursday’s release of the survey was a first step in the process. A series of public meetings and a more robust, but less scientific, survey of library patrons will follow over the next month. Supervisors will take up the discussion again in early 2016.
Jason Wiebe of the Kern County Administrative Office said the poll results are just one piece of the county’s exploration of this issue.
“We’re not going to draw any conclusions from this by itself,” he said.
But he said the level of satisfaction with county services in general and library services specifically was great to hear.
“Mr. Price, the pollster, indicated that that’s a little higher than government satisfaction levels usually get,” Wiebe said.
Andie Apple, assistant director for the Library Department, said the information gathered through the process will be needed to focus limited library resources on the work that needs to be done.
“The poll results, coupled with the community meetings and Library Dept. Survey, will be crucial for us to set a path for the future of the Kern County Library,” he reported.
The poll findings show that 69 percent of the respondents felt very satisfied (25 percent) or somewhat satisfied (44 percent) with the library services they receive. Among frequent library users, 74 percent were satisfied with the libraries.
The results were much less clear on the central question the poll was designed to answer: Should the county outsource library services and operations to a private company such as LSSI?
In fact, 52 percent of respondents said libraries should not be privatized. That number rose to 60 percent among frequent library users.
The poll also asked whether respondents would support a one-eighth cent sales tax boost to increase library services. Poll findings indicate that 52 percent of respondents would support the sales tax measure.
But the poll’s summary notes that a sales tax increase would likely require a two-thirds margin of support to be enacted.
Leaders of Advocates for Library Enhancement, a group formed to support the library system and oppose privatization, said the poll clearly showed there wasn’t public support for outsourcing.
“We are very pleased that Kern County wants to take care of its own library system and wants to look closely at how it’s funded,” said ALE spokeswoman Miranda Lomeli-O’Reilly.