Florida County To Explore Privatizing Libraries

With the county facing a projected $10 million in lost revenue next year, any and all ideas to produce money are on the table.
Including privatizing the county's library system.
County Administrator David Hamilton said that particular option will go before the members of the budget and finance committee when it meets April 7.
Hamilton said outsourcing public library services to a private company could save the county $500,000 in operational costs without reducing services.


in the eighties, Hernando was one of the fastest growing counties in Florida, but it grew too big, too fast. maybe the mermaids can save them:

As seen by many California Libraries, "privatizing" is a good deal at first, however what we have seen, is once a private company takes over, new resources and materials are rarely purchased. My friend loves her raises which are based on her work, rather than a 3-year union negotiated contract, but in the end the customers lose.


I seriously wonder if it is just a situation of getting what you pay for. If budgets don't increase to cover increased costs, the difference has to be made up somewhere. My local library, Henderson District Public Library, has been cutting back hours hard so that it can stay open and operate. It may not be the best service but it may be the only possibility outside shutting down.

If libraries were of sufficient importance to the local residents, a levy vote could be pursued. If the people were fired up enough, maybe the odds of passage could at least exist rather than not at all. Lacking the will to pursue such options may be indicative of a shift in the place of a library in US culture. While privatization is not the best of choices, for funders it is sometimes the least risky option available in a climate full of risk.

Would anybody advocate outright closure instead of privatization if new tax levies were not pursued?
Stephen Michael Kellat, Host, LISTen
PGP KeyID: 899C131F

If we keep them open through private enterprises eventually local municipalities lose an amount of control over their library. Eventually more and more things that probably should not be will be handled by paraprofessionals without much say or oversight in the matter. Also, if things in the community do improve the library will be automatically praised as a "success" of privatization whether or not the privatization actually helped.

Shutting libraries down completely isn't a good option, but at least it gets attention that the DVDs and storytimes are not as free as people think. Why not just do something far more sane and put library funding in the hands of the community via ballot initiative rather then leave it up to a city hall who often is paid enough to buy their own damn materials but who want to look "fiscally conservative?" Sure, we're had funding issues that way in Washington state, but overall we can self-correct if need be and local communities maintain overall control.

Do not have budgets proportional to the percent of government employees they have working for them, or the number of government facilities that they run. Library divisions, especially those in large area, or rapidly growing areas, often have as much as ten percent of the government staff working for them, and often have as many as ten percent of the buildings owned or rented by the government in charge of them, yet they rarely get anything close to ten percent of the total government budget to run them. More often than not, they get less than one percent of the government budget to run them. Yet library directors often run into political stone walls when they try to separate off a "library taxing district" to create a dedicated property tax that is completely controlled by the library and a library board, because more often than not, libraries that have such separate taxing districts end up with more money to run those facilities than they get from the government directly.

In Hawaii, which tried the privatization method, a very costly lesson was learned by the taxpayers when the state library system terminated the contracts that allowed private contractors to even do as little as collection development for their library system.

What occurs in places where the libraries are privatized is many sources of revenue that traditionally go back into the government coffers ends up going to the private sector. Books that are leased by the libraries when they are on best seller lists get pulled out of those libraries as soon as they fall off the lists and are then sold at a dollar a pop by the contractors, putting money into the contractors profits, rather than BACK into the library budget. Books sale money goes the same route. Even public library FINES are lost as a source of government revenues and are taken by the contractor as part of these deals. Another example of what has occured in past privatizations.

Since money raised by public libraries usually must go back into the general fund for government, as privatization takes hold, government revenues see a drop.

The answer, as with Social Security, is a direct, dedicated tax that the library and librians have to lobby to get increased as necessary, which to be honest has never been often, because as population grows, property tax dollars grow the dollars amount to support library growth also grows. Separate off the money to run libraries in a dedicated tax. The public not only will then be able to directly say yes or no to cuts or increases to library budgets, but to directly influence policies in this way.

As it stands, library budgets more often than not are used as a means to keep campaign promises to "lower taxes"

The places that have privatized libraries have basically been a dismal failure. As with most right wing ideas, the idea that drives privatization is follows the typical right wing shallow mindset.

The net result of privatization of libraries as well as other services that government privatizes (like land fills) is a diminishing of services by every quantitative and qualitative measure. These ideas are more designed to create self fulfilling prophecies. That is, as the quality of service drops, and the anount of available materials drops due to the need for the private businesses to make a profit, use drops off, and the suggestion that no one uses the libraries anyway becomes true, because when the private sector takes over, the public input into collection development, and other library services vanishes, as the agency is no longer really accountable to the public at all, but to a private business, that makes its own decisions as to what is most profitable, not what is wanted by 49.9 percent of the library users.

Privatized libraries end up being a large collection of best seller novels ,and little else.

What has happened in places that have privatized. None of the promises made by the private companies were kept, Or rather, larger and larger chunks of the flat fees paid to the private companies went to the profit end of the privatization equation, and less and less went toward the service end. That is to say, price gouging enters the system through privatization.

The companies purchase ANY cheap books they can get their hands on (usually remainders bought by weight, or even private college collections of ancient and useless science or medical books from the late 19th century at a dollar per volume), virtually no recent or updated reference materials, even BASIC reference materials like current encyclopedias (privatizers purchase older and very outdated encyclopedia sets to simply create the illusion of full shelves).

Young adult and childrens services are usually ignored or of so much less quality that parents who are patrons at such libraries simply stop using the libraries.

No consideration is given to minority materials or foreign language materials to suit the needs of local ethnic minorities at all, even when those groups are not even minorities. The experience in Hawaii was catastrophic, as the idea of creating collections for ethnic Hawaiians vanished with privatization in that state.

When the private sector is given the opportunity to control government services, the net result is usually a net loss, and because it takes years to change anything in government, the cumulative loss is usually large, requiring the local government eventually to "bail out" the private businesses or to completely take them over when the company finally bankrupts out of its service obligations. The result of having the private sector have too much control over what are basically government agencies has been seen lately in the AIG, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae debacle. The free market is clearly not only broken, but it never really worked well to begin with.

In many cities, the private sector vultures are rearing their ugly heads with regard to library services. They will of course, place their own interests in making a profit over the interests of the public that uses the libraries. Libraries become a clever method by which the private sector can suck money out of the government without having anyone actually understand where the money is disappearing to for a very long time. Private libraries are subject to very similar problems that large privately held bookstores are.

We have a rather good example of how poorly privatization of publically controlled or owned services performs in the ex Warsaw bloc.

Privatization of government assets has yielded a rather poor set of results in the ex Soviet bloc. That is to say, the true owners of these assets, the public, did not see the slightes return for their ownership of the assets which were turned over to private interests.

And this is the rub. The private sector takes over providing services in building that they did not pay a red cent to build NOR pay a dime to rent. The major business expenses to start these agencies, the actual contruction of the libraries, has been paid for by the taxpayer, yet private businesses benefit by simply providing "SERVICES" with major aspects of what are traditional business expenses, brick and mortar location, storage, computer equipment and other office expenses being paid for by the taxpayer as well.

Since neither the public, nor elected officials actually understand what is involved in actually running a library as a "not for profit" institution, for profit businesses simply utilize "quantification" to show an increase in book purchases, etc, without regard to qualitative matters (that is, what percentage of the materials they purchase actually are used or circulate) The private sector is then allowed to create its own criteria for judging sucess and the one allowed to be used by libraries in the past, circulation of materials, is given second place.

It is probably important to remember that the Northern Alabama Space Agency, NASA, uses contractors heavily. Somehow the US space agency has survived both Republicans and Democrats insisting that they couldn't hire any civil servants and had to contract out. The agency mainly is just a contracting and disbursing office today as things like even shuttle maintenance are handled by contractors.

You're painting with a broad brush here. Are there ways contracts could be let so that things could be operated in an appropriate fashion? Is there any hope?
Stephen Michael Kellat, Host, LISTen
PGP KeyID: 899C131F

Sure, there is hope, but clinging to that hope is ridiculous. If it normally works poorly and we do not have a brilliant idea on how to fix the system then we should not be doing it.

Could a model contract or guidance to municipalities be issued to help solve those issues, though? Isn't that something the ALA could actually provide leadership on? If memory serves, model contracts are out there for municipalities on all sorts of things but library services is one of the gaps.
Stephen Michael Kellat, Host, LISTen
PGP KeyID: 899C131F

I think you are referring to NASA-- the National Aeronautics and Space Administration--right, Stephen?

Such remains a euphemism within the agency for the disproportionate concentration of resources, funding, and staff at Marshall Space Flight Center in Northern Alabama to the exclusion of all other facilities. Too many programs got killed because they didn't benefit Northern Alabama through being based at Marshall. Particularly amusing was the incident where the local member of Congress representing the area around Marshall said he wanted to tear Glenn's microgravity drop tower out and move it to Alabama. Mind you, the drop tower is sunk 535 feet into the ground but that wasn't about to stop him.
Stephen Michael Kellat, Host, LISTen
PGP KeyID: 899C131F

Reading through the comments from the story it is apparent that many are operating on the assumption that you get more for the same cost when you privatize government services. From what I have seen that is false for a couple of reasons:
1) There will need to be government staff to administer the program
2) Commercial entities can charge the government more than they can another private company due to lack of competition
So ultimately what happens is that you save money on the books but get far less in return.

For all the assertions made by conservatives that the private sector somehow performs better than government, there is little proof that this is in fact the case. around the world, there is in fact evidence to the contrary. Such as the Catholic Church in Ireland turning over its schools to the Irish Government because they found that the government could run the schools more efficiently and at a lower cost.
The French, whose civil service makes up a third of its entire labor force and GDP, and France in many years outperforms the United State when it comes to hourly productivity. More often France equals the U.S. in hourly productivity and the rest of the time is within a percent or two of U.S. productivity.

There is a great deal of evidence that the government almost ALWAYS outperforms the private sector, particularly if one takes into consideration the size of the operations that the government is engaged in. The evidence is that the private sector would actually perform very poorly if they were required to run any business or agency of similar size and scope as most government agencies.

In fact, the concept that some private businesses have gotten too large for the government to allow them to fail is more than ample proof that the private sector and the entire ideology that lies behind it has size limitations, considering how many large financial businesses collapsed because they simply were too inept to perform at the scales they were operating at. They got too large to funtion. If the largest government operation, the military was run by the private sector, the same way that AIG or Lehman Brothers were run, a few kids with spitballs could defeat the U.S. military.

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