Library privatization

Someone had asked my thoughts on this article about library privatization.  I tend to be skeptical of anyone (in this case, Frank Pezzanite of LSSI) who describes librarians in the following way:

You can go to a library for 35 years and never have to do anything and then have your retirement. We’re not running our company that way. You come to us, you’re going to have to work.

(I also suggest reading this Library Journal article for a bit more information/rebuttal of some of LSSI’s claims.)

To me, it sounds like many advocates of privatization (here’s one) highlight things that are already going on in our public library system: electronic catalogs, databases available outside of the library, early childhood literacy programs, ESL programs, etc.

In FY2005, the per capita expenditure for the Worcester Public Library was $23.51.  (Source: WPL FY2007-2011 Strategic Plan).  That was nearly $7 less than the state average per capita municipal library expenditure. 

The FY2011 library budget is $4,293,155.32; there are approximately 182,596 people in Worcester.  My calculator says that the per capita expenditure remains at $23.51.

If the per capita nationwide expenditure in 2007 was $38.62 (according to the report Public Libraries in the United States: Fiscal Year 2008, page 99, on this site), then we’re spending about 60% of that.  (Even if you look at the local per capita — $31.94 — or the MA local per capita — $35.24 — we’re still very, very low.)

(Would you like it put another way?  In FY2005, we were roughly $7 less than the state average.  Now we’re nearly $12 less.)

Could privatization get us library services any cheaper than we’re already getting them?

I doubt it.

2 thoughts on “Library privatization

  1. Joe says:

    I very rarely see librarians at the Main branch (the only one I frequent) sitting around.

    By the number of unshelved books and movies (they often wheel the carts to the right general area and hope patrons will pick up stuff so they don’t have to shelve it) I would say that the library is understaffed.

    Public pension liabilities can always be an issue – but I doubt these are actually part of the library’s yearly balance sheet. (Do you know?)

    • Nicole says:

      I don’t think the pension liabilities are included in any department’s budget, and I think that’s where a lot of our (mine, the general public, the elected officials) get concerned — it seems like a black hole that I/we have no grasp of, except to be afraid or intimidated at the prospect. I think there’s also this perception that it’s something employees get for free (when, in fact, they contribute towards it — though, as in the case with Social Security, there is a gap between what they initially contribute and what they actually receive).

      I also agree on the library understaffing, and that’s why I do encourage people to use the self-service machines where possible. It’s not about a lack of appreciation for the human staff, but if enough people use the self-service machines, that might warrant freeing a staffperson to assist with reference…or shelving!

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