Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Can We Talk About Privatizing Libraries Now?

This isn't an easy topic to approach. Especially since libraries and librarianship is the core of this blog. A hard examination of what is loved and treasured is can either be cathartic or devastating This attempt is meant to be healing and invite comments to inspire an exchange of ideas. Awhile ago, the idea of private libraries was put forth in this forum. It is understandable why many libraries avoid the idea of a private libraries. They may even consider it a dirty word. Heaven forbid that such a thing would happen to our beautiful public libraries. Why private would be intimidating, unwelcoming, and very elitists. That should not be the designation for the institutions that boasts the freedom to read, grow and think independently. Public libraries should always be free .... or should they? Would it be a bad thing to look at the idea with an open mind? One great example of why privatizing library is worth exploring is looking at the Mark Twain Library in Downtown Detroit. No seriously, don't look it will break every library lover's heart. Library Journal recently reposted pictures of the Mark Twain Library in Detroit. It is an abandoned library. Once it was a treasure of the city where neighborhood children went to after school and weekends to check out their favorite tomes. Now it's a shamble. The city of Detroit and the administration of the Detroit Public Library ought to be ashamed of what they allowed to happen to this library. There are so many questions that demand answers that it is hard to know where to begin. For example, why were the books allowed to say on the shelves and not brought to a safer place for storage? Or at the very least shared with the open Detroit Library Branches or surrounding libraries? Why was there a lack of security to prevent the destruction? At a time when libraries are in budget battles to prove their worth to the community, Detroit has proven to the nation that this is not the city that reads or cares for preserving literature for future generations. To be fair, this is a city that has declared bankrupt. Money is not only tight, apparently it's none existent. Which is precisely why looking into privatization of libraries should at least be considered. If taxpayers can not fund a library or library system, it's time to consider other sources of funding. Privatization of libraries can provide freedom for libraries in many ways. Freedom in how much they can charge for fines and fees. Freedom from having to worry about milages passing or not passing due to the "mood" of the voters in a particular election cycle. Freedom to be independent of local government budgets which at times become a scary predicament of waiting for the budget ax to come down on the library. It is time to think like a business. In other words it's time to be entrepreneurial and go for the gusto. It's time for small libraries like Mark Twain to be vibrant again, with children and adults using the resources available to them. Will the library be free. Of course not! Today's libraries are not free either. Taxpayers fund them whether they personally use the library or not. In no particular order, here are some reasons and ways libraries can make that big shift from public to private. First and foremost libraries can not exist without solid financial backing. For decades,the chosen method of funding libraries has been to use public funds, raise taxes and hope that city administrators would not raid the library's nest egg. With the option of private libraries set up user fees and service options. The patron will get to decide which services they want or even choose that they do not want any of the libraries services. The revenue collected is for the library's use only. It does not need to be shared with any of the other "community's" obligations. One might ask what would make this different than a book store? The difference, the user's support the shared collection of resources. In a bookstore, one has to buy the books for their own personal collection. There are many who do not have the resources nor the space in their homes to do this. The private libraries offer the ability for those in the community to have a shared stake in the collections. What the customer wants, the customer will receive. Private companies have the ability to go around red tape and bureaucratic nonsense that stunts the growth of any city government department. Privatization offers flexibility. Privatizing libraries provides freedom away from petty politics on local, state and national levels. No longer will library director's be a the mercy of one or two city council members who refuse to do what is right by the library and the patrons. Politics has the nasty ability to interfere when there is no need for them or desire for them to butt in. An example, would be if a mayor's wife does not like a certain library service but twelve other "customers" do, the winner will be the majority not the elite minority That goes along with the complaints of what books should or should not be on a library shelf. Along with that there is the freedom to build a collection without the fear of a PC police. Politically correct or non correct books or resources could be placed on the shelf without fanfare. All books are welcomed. Patrons can choose for themselves the books they wish to read. There would be no need for review boards or unnecessary paper work that documents what page was the most offensive to the reader. Frankly as most businessmen and women will tell you, money talks. If patrons are paying for their library services straight from their own pockets, they will demand services that will satisfy them. If the needs are not satisfied, the money will dry up and go somewhere else. A good business person always makes customer satisfaction the number one priority. . Private companies also do not have the burden of dealing with only one or two ways of making money. Let's face it in the government sector of the business world the means to make money is either raise taxes or grants. Neither one of these are particularly dependable for library administrators to count on. In the private sector, finding creative means to raise money is not only a requirement but also encouraged. As long as it is within the legal bounds of the law, business can raise money by teaming together to create a new idea or use other methods of fundraising like programs and events which solicit memberships to the organization. In any case the opportunities are a little more abundant on the private side then in government. The idea of total privatization of libraries may sound risky and foolish to some. Perhaps it might even be appropriate to take baby steps into the venture. Couldn't a public library form partnerships with a private company to ensure a smooth transition? Wouldn't it be worth the experiment to see if this is possible? Just an off the wall suggestion here, Why not try it with the Mark Twain Library in Detroit? After all a library is a terrible thing to waste! It's time to give privatization of libraries a chance.
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