Now the company, Library Systems & Services, has been hired for the first time to run a system in a relatively healthy city, setting off an intense and often acrimonious debate about the role of outsourcing in a ravaged economy.
A $4 million deal to run the three libraries here is a chance for the company to demonstrate that a dose of private management can be good for communities, although so far, privatization, remember Blackwater and Correction Corporation of America has been disastrous.
 But in an era when outsourcing is most often an act of budget desperation — with janitors, police forces and even entire city halls farmed out in one town or another — the contract in Santa Clarita has touched a deep nerve and begun a round of second-guessing.
Can a municipal service like a library hold so central a place that it should be entrusted to a profit-driven contractor only as a last resort — and maybe not even then?
  Frank A. Pezzanite, the outsourcing company’s chief executive. He has pledged to save $1 million a year in Santa Clarita, mainly by replacing unionized employees. “Somehow they have been put in the category of a sacred organization.” Yeah, right pal, like schools and books.

The company, known as L.S.S.I., runs 14 library systems operating 63 locations. Its basic pitch to cities is that it fixes broken libraries — more often than not by throwing employees into the street.

The members of the Santa Clarita City Council who voted to hire L.S.S.I. acknowledge there was no immediate threat to the libraries. The council members say they want to ensure the libraries’ long-term survival in a state with increasingly shaky finances.
Until now, the three branch locations have been part of the Los Angeles County library system. Under the new contract, the branches will be withdrawn from county control and all operations — including hiring staff and buying books — ceded to L.S.S.I.
Library employees are furious about the contract. But the reaction has been mostly led by patrons who say they cannot imagine Santa Clarita with libraries run for profit.
“A library is the heart of the community,” said one opponent, Jane Hanson. “I’m in favor of private enterprise, but I can’t feel comfortable with what the city is doing here.”
Mrs. Hanson and her husband, Tom, go to their local branch every week or two to pick up tapes for the car and books to read after dinner. Mrs. Hanson recently checked out Willa Cather’s classic “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” although she was only mildly in favor of its episodic style; she has higher hopes for her current choice, on the shadowy world of North Korea.
The suggestion that a library is different — and somehow off limits to the outsourcing fever — has been echoed wherever L.S.S.I. has gone. The head of the county library system, Margaret Donnellan Todd, says L.S.S.I. is viewed as an unwelcome outsider.
“There is no local connection,” she said. “People are receiving superb service in Santa Clarita. I challenge that L.S.S.I. will be able to do much better.”
As a recent afternoon shaded into evening, there were more than a hundred patrons at the main Santa Clarita library. Students were doing their homework. Old men paged through newspapers. Children gathered up arm’s loads of picture books. It was a portrait of civic harmony and engagement.
Mrs. Hanson, who is 81 and has been a library patron for nearly 50 years, was so bothered by the outsourcing contract that she became involved in local politics for the first time since 1969, when she worked for a recall movement related to the Vietnam War.
She drew up a petition warning that the L.S.S.I. contract would result in “greater cost, fewer books and less access,” with “no benefit to the citizens.” Using a card table in front of the main library branch, she gathered 1,200 signatures in three weekends.
L.S.S.I. says none of Mrs. Hanson’s fears are warranted, but the anti-outsourcing forces continue to air their suspicions at private meetings and public forums, even wondering whether a recall election is feasible.
“Public libraries invoke images of our freedom to learn, a cornerstone of our democracy,” Deanna Hanashiro, a retired teacher, said at the most recent city council meeting.
While the company says it retains some employees, it emphasizes that their lifestyles will be impacted radically, that they might want to start looking at food stamps and other forms of compensation,  they will all lose their  pensions.
L.S.S.I. got its start 30 years ago developing software for government use, then expanded into running libraries for federal agencies.
The company is majority owned by Islington Capital Partners, a private equity firm in Boston, and has about $35 million in annual revenue and 800 employees. Officials would not discuss the company’s profitability.