I had just seen a news bit in Library Journal (March 15, 2011) saying, “Thirteen million economically impacted Americans are using the library more during a challenging economic time.” The startling graphic accompanying the headline showed that consumer spending on books, CDs, and DVDs was down 76% while library borrowing of those same items was up 75%. The data, from a study by OCLC, Perceptions of Libraries 2010: Context and Community, supported what librarians know is true – that during tough economic times people use the library more. The challenge, of course, is to convince legislators who control public purse strings not to cut the library’s budget during a recession. Libraries not only provide free entertainment and resources for skill development and job searching, but provide needed services such as Internet access and literacy programming.
So what does it mean to privatize libraries? And why is it front page news?
My first assumption was that local businesses were being called upon to save the county libraries from closure. But that was not the case. It turns out that the county is considering outsourcing library management (and financial burden) to a for-profit library management company, LSSI. A major benefit for the county, of course, is that the library staff would no longer be on the county’s payroll and retirement plan.
The reason it’s making headlines is that there are those who believe that the voters should have some say in whether or not their public asset is given over to private owners who clearly have a profit to consider. At this point, there is no requirement for such participation.
The public library system in the US has been ingrained in the fabric of our culture for over 100 years. Since the building of over 2,800 free public libraries was funded by Andrew Carnegie and the American Library Association has tied their mission to the First Amendment.
“Freedom of expression is an inalienable human right and the foundation for self-government. Freedom of expression encompasses the freedoms of speech, press, religion, assembly, and association, and the corollary right to receive information.” (The Universal Right to Free Expression: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights)
I don’t like to get into political discussions (nor do I like to discuss why I don’t like to discuss politics), but I do have an opinion about this one. In one of the three articles I read in the Star (Yes, there were three articles about library issues!), an LSSI executive is reported to have said that “he doesn’t understand why the decision to contract for library services should be any different from, say, a city’s decision to contract for trash hauling or park maintenance or the operation of a recreational center.”
If this company does not see the difference between street sweeping and literacy, I have to wonder about their ability to carry out their responsibilities. If they don’t see how libraries provide a tangible connection to the constitution, then their commitment to library professional ideals should be questioned.
The Darling Library is not a public library. We do not serve the same kind of purpose or mission. But this is a good week to remember what we are about; that we are committed to many of the same ideals as all libraries are as we seek to serve the information needs of the Hope academic community.
The Hugh and Hazel Darling Library serves the Hope International University community by providing access to information resources and developing information literacy for lifelong learning.