Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Privatizing libraries?

Small independent bookstores have seen challenging times for the past decade and these next several months will see more bookstore obituaries. Even mega bookstore Borders with its selection, author events, music, in-store coffee and interesting sideline items is struggling. And now, in this country's deepening economic crisis stories are popping up about library closures. In other periods of economic downturns, cities and counties have had to consider closing libraries or reducing hours and services. This is usually a last resort as most recognize the value a public library has to its community. And this is what's happening in Philadelphia with a disturbing twist:
A judge ruled Tuesday that Philadelphia's mayor cannot close 11 public library branches to save money because an ordinance requires City Council approve such actions.

Common Pleas Judge Idee Fox heard more than a day of testimony before finding that the mayor is bound by a 1988 ordinance that prohibits him from closing any city-owned building without City Council's approval.

The libraries had been slated to close Thursday, but two lawsuits were filed and Mayor Michael Nutter was booed repeatedly about his decision during a news conference Monday.

He said the cash-strapped city could save about $8 million a year by closing 20 percent of its 54 library branches. The mayor had said the shuttered facilities could reopen with help from private financial partners. ...

In response to the library cuts, Nutter said he expected books, computers and other materials to stay at the envisioned public-private "knowledge centers." But he could not say if the facilities would be staffed by librarians.

American Library Association president Jim Rettig said libraries work best as publicly funded entities with trained staff. "It makes as much sense to privatize your libraries as it does to privatize your police force," Rettig said.

Whoa. What has usually been the case with privatization is that the taxpayers actually end up paying more and getting less. Eliminating good, professional jobs in the worst parts of your city is only going to add to the economic problems. This seems like a terrible idea and I hope the library advocates are able to stop it.

2 comments:

cali said...

Went to the library after writing this and while I was there I picked up a small publication on the counter. It's the "Annual Report to the Community." This statement was at the very bottom of the last page:

"Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries."

Exactly.

Jenners said...

Let me tell you, I live near Philly and there are a lot of other things they could save money on besides closing libraries.