More and more, public libraries are being managed by private companies
Public Libraries For Profit
We abridge this article from In These Times of Nov 27, 2007, then we question the wisdom of hanging on to bygone ideals when the future offers a brighter way for all.
by Akito YoshikaneIn late October, Jackson County OR re-opened its 15 public libraries after shutting them on April 6 -- the largest library closure in US history.
In fiscal year 2007, Jackson County had a $23 million budget shortfall; Oregon’s was $150 million. The federal government had quit paying local governments a $400 million annual split of timber-logging revenue, which had declined.
Though Congress eventually extended the funding by one year, Jackson County commissioners voted to save money and outsource library services to the Maryland-based Library Systems & Services (LSSI). The five-year contract, worth $3 million annually with an additional $1.3 million for building maintenance, cuts in almost half what the county previously spent.
While municipalities have for years contracted non-library services such as janitorial duties or photocopying, the outsourcing of core library services -- cataloging and use of automated systems and material acquisition -- has increased. Public libraries in Dallas, Riverside CA, and Finney County KS have also hired LSSI staff.
LSSI makes its money from the difference between the budget and what it spends. It typically downsizes staff, centralizes accounting and human resource services, and buys books in bulk, while passing administrative costs to patrons as general handling fees.
Although the total cost of running Jackson County libraries was cut, so, too, were library hours. Now most libraries are open only 24 hours a week, down from the 40-plus hours before the April shutdown, and are closed on Sundays.
LSSI brought back about 60 of the 88 people who were laid off. Although salaries are comparable to what they were before, employees are now no longer part of Oregon’s pension system, which has been replaced with a 401(k) program, and medical benefits have also been cut.
JJS: We shouldn’t expect all our money to come from our jobs. Nor should we expect residents to pay taxes to cover the rising costs of customary public services. Instead, we all should get an income from society’s surplus and enterprises like libraries should be able to operate profitably by charging its users fees.
Instead of paying taxes to politicians to pay bureaucrats to hire workers to serve us, we’d pay in land dues -- the annual value of our location -- and get back a share of public revenue. Thus citizens would decide how to spend the funds directly. Me, being someone who uses the library more than I now pay it as taxes (and overdue fines), I’d find the most affordable and pleasant ways to borrow books, read distant periodicals, and ask questions of information specialists. Libraries, having to cater to customers rather than to politics, would deliver what people want and faster, like having south side windows for natural reading light and energy savings.
The homeless would no longer snore at library tables. Not because they’d be kicked out but because in a just economy they’d have enough income and job opportunity to more easily fend for themselves. And the good souls who help misfits would also be better endowed to offer any remaining homeless what they need, perhaps a day bed instead of a library chair.
Where would the money for our social salary come from? From “rent”, or all the money we spend on the nature we use, not just Oregon forests but all sites and resources. By levying taxes, fees, and dues to recover rent, we’d redirect that flow of trillions for land and oil and EM spectrum from the elite’s pockets to the public treasury.
At the same time, we could reduce -- even eliminate -- the counterproductive taxes on earned income, sustainable business, and buildings and other improvements. Eradicating these harmful taxes would let people produce more, more efficiently. That would pump up the value of locations in cities, where people do most production. That, in turn, would increase “rents” that landowners would pay into public coffers. Receiving a fair share of that flow, residents could easily afford any public service now subsidized, including the local library.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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