Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Private Companies Taking Over Libraries

Hello All -

Dick Eastman had an interesting post about some US city public libraries being taken over or managed by private companies, such as LSSI. The full NY Times article mentioned in Eastman's post can be read here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/27/business/27libraries.html?_r=1

Could this happen here in the UK? The only answer that I can give is I don't know. Libraries all over are facing the cut backs in financing and hours, etc. due to the current financial situation. Public libraries have in a sense always been a institution of the local government. If the city's public library goes into private management would that make things more costly for the patron? The private management company is for profit or they wouldn't be going into business. How is the private company making it's money - fees for books that are returned late, etc. The article mentioned about making cuts in the library workers, etc. That would save money in overhead, but how else would the private library get it's funding. There is the fear that fees, and various other costs for the library patron will increase down the line. It may not be immediate, but it will no doubt come.

However (playing devil's advocate), perhaps privatizing the public library will be a good thing all around, and make things work better and more efficiently. In the US, some of the libraries are unionized. This can sometimes cause their own problems with strikes, high cost of pensions and benefits, etc. Maybe the privatization will cut out the unnecessary waste for the library, which can be a sore spot in any government run facility now days. As long as the services are not cut or made to cost more (private company wanting to make a big profit), there shouldn't be a problem with privatization.

There could also be the problem of "what if the private company goes bust?" Then what happens to the library? Will it go back to the government to run again, will it be sold to another private company, or will the library just go along the wayside and left to rot empty and derelict.

In my local town public library there is a sense that the facility is not being as used as much as it once was, mainly due to the Internet. So much information can be acquired at home on a personal computer. The local public library is not really the hub of activity as it used to be. There are many times that I have been into the local public library and hardly a soul is in it. I cannot speak for other libraries, but just what I have noticed in my own local one.

I don't really know if privatization of the public library will happen here in the UK. My hunch is probably not. But, I think it is an interesting concept that I hadn't thought about until reading Eastman's post and the NY Times article. It makes one think about the future of their public library facilities. Perhaps when the economy gets better things will not look as troublesome for the local library, and things will pick up in terms of budget, hours of operation, etc.

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