Can public libraries ever work?

Bob Cox writes:

If we didn't have public libraries, and if somebody proposed them, the proponents would - you can be certain - never dream of suggesting the operation of one under the same roof as a bookstore. The inevitable harm to the bookstore from the unfair, taxpayer-subsidized competition would be obvious.

In fact, though, when asked recently if that proximity ever caused any sort of problem with the mall people, the head of the Dayton library system said simply, "No." A nonissue. Nothing.

Despite their universal acceptance and their harmlessness, however, libraries are having problems these days. They have fallen on hard budgetary times in various places. In California, there have been waves of layoffs. Seattle has had temporary closings. In Montgomery County, as a result of state budgetary cutbacks, there have been shortened hours, reductions in the purchase of new books, difficulty in serving growing communities and other problems. Read more here.

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