Monday, February 4, 2013

Library Funding Part One: The Road to Privitization?

In an anti-tax environment libraries across the United States are going to have to do some soul searching. Especially in states where the economy is not doing well due to high unemployment and soaring cost of living expenses. It seems that prices are going up on everything, which means that libraries are feeling the same pinch. Once again, many libraries are turning to the tried method of mileage proposals on the ballot to raise the revenues they need. In the past couple of election cycles, there have been many success stories of libraries passing their mileages. However, if the economy takes another downward turn, as many economic indicators predict, the mileages won't mean a thing if taxes can't be paid. It is very likely that the anti-tax voice will get stronger and louder. Libraries must be bolder than just going after the tried and true money box of mileages. It may be time to consider privatizing libraries for profit and secure a future. Before the naysayers raise their objections, consider the following points. Publishers are in no hurry to help out libraries as it relates to ebooks. Frankly, it is probably the moment they have been waiting for all their proverbial lives. The chance to squeeze out not only libraries but booksellers too. Why else would three out of the six major publishers refuse to sell ebooks to libraries? The other three that are willing to sell to libraries overprice the books to capitalize on profit. It's not "fair" that libraries lend out books to readers, who thus get to enjoy the book for free. Here's a crazy thought: avid readers love to share the books they read with others. Electronically or in print they will find a way to loan their friends a copy of their book. It's a fact of life. Publishers need to realize that libraries are as part of the society as apple pie and Chevrolet. Not matter what form the libraries take, there will always be libraries serving an important role in the community. Having said that, there needs to be an effort to encourage publishers to lower prices and sell to libraries. For once and for all, it has to be proven that it is a win win situation for both parties. Especially with indepent publishers pushing their way into the market and making an impact that could be comparable to when paperbacks made their breakthrough in reading habits. The problem with the publishers is only a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to library survival. The digitization of our culture is another battle that must be won. Libraries can talk about the digital divide and how it is important to bring everyone on board to the new digital reading world until they are blue in the face. The fact of the matter is, when push comes to shove the haves and the have nots in this world will not matter one iota when paychecks get smaller and everyone is grumbling about the cost of everything. Start asking for more tax revenue and it may make th4 ecommunity begin to question do they need a library. Forbes did a wonderful two part article on why libraries matter. The basic premise is that librries are needed as an insstitution where reading is promoted. The Library also acts as a gathering place for informtioan and meeting. Wonderful. What they fail to address is the promotion of librareis as a return of investment (ROI) for the community. If this can not be provem, a community will look a the library as a dinosaur and unable to change. If the discussion is going to turn to practical usage of taxpayer dollaars and community benefits it might be time to consider consolidating or communities sharing resources. For example, many cities have found ways to share police and fire resources to help the finacial bottom line of both communites. While it is always a nice idea that every community deserves a library, perhaps a better way to view it is that every community dsserves access to a library. With the digital age and downloading capabilities there is no reason why communities can not share one library building and serve multiple communities. Returning to the origianl idea of privitizing libraires. The question becomes is there a "product" that libraries offer. yes. It's called information in any form a patorn desires it and for any purpose be it educational or entertainment. Those agains selling or using information as a commodity fail to remember that the first public library in the United States was not free. It was supported on a subscription basis. think of it this way, if the population valued their libraries as much as they say do they do, they won't be mind paying for it like they do for cable or cell phones. It is a servcie that is wanted, therefore it is not rolled into a tax. Libraries have relied so heavily on the tax systme that it may very well be to their demise. Perhaps they are are afraid it will be harder to fund a private library becasue they do not see a commitment from their own communities to their libraries. If that is the case, then shame on librarians for going along with the status quo and not even trying to venture out to something new. Clinging on to old ways is a recipe for disaster. Time to look at new revenues, new challenges and finding the solutions to make it work for the future. Stay tuned this is a discussion that will be reviseted in the months to come.