This story in particular is about Jackson County, Oregon hiring a private firm to run its library.
[...]LSSI will be in charge of buying books and says it will use its muscle to obtain deep discounts from suppliers. It will also be responsible for hiring, and says that while its salaries will be comparable to what the employees were making previously, the benefits will be less generous. The workers will lose the right to participate in Oregon's pension system for public employees and instead will qualify for a 401(k) program.
The contract with LSSI will be worth around $3 million a year; the county will also budget $1.3 million to maintain the buildings. Combined, that is about half of the $8 million a year the county previously spent on its libraries.
However, the libraries will be open a total of only 24 hours a week, compared with 40-plus hours for most branches before the shutdown. And LSSI plans to hire 50 to 60 full-time employees, down from 88 under county management.
There are several problems with this arrangement that are easily seen. The first is that this will inevitably cause a drop in the professionalism of the staff. The great majority of experienced librarians aren't going to accept any substantial cuts in their pay because quite simply there are enough jobs to go around. There are still plenty of publicly funded libraries that pay just fine. Of course the majority of library users aren't going to care about that until they discover the collection is becoming narrower and less diverse, which is the second problem. A lot of a librarian's job is what's called "collection development" in the biz. That means building and maintaining collections such as fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children. Building by buying new books and maintaining by replacing necessary older books and divesting of unnecessary ones. But the job of buying new books isn't as simple as looking at Amazon.com and seeing what's most popular. Generally there isn't enough money to buy every new book, so the librarian has to decide not only what's going to be popular with their readers, but what will serve the greatest number of patrons. That often means buying books they know won't get more than three or four uses a year.
Professional librarians do this. Bookstore clerks do not. Places like Barnes & Noble respond only to demand with a Wal-Mart style system of inventory. They'll have stacks and stacks of hot books by hot authors, but they may have only one (or none) of authors that don't go very high on the NY Times best-seller list. Compare what you can find of Gregory Benford at the local bookstore vs. the local library and you'll see what I mean. This is important because the distinction between a bookstore and a public library is that the bookstore exists to serve those who pay whereas a library exists to serve all. Librarians of public libraries are, furthermore, free to make the choice to invest in less popular works because they are insulated from managers whose job it is to ensure profitability.
I'm not saying that this LSSI is going to turn the library into another B&N, but still, you have to be suspicious of what they're going to do if they think they can turn a dime on the public library.
'The average citizen, when they walk into the library, they will see well-trained, well-educated, customer-service-oriented people working in the library,' said Bob Windrow.
But will they really? I know they're keeping a lot of the librarians, but will they continue to hire new librarians (people with a Masters of Library Science) as they go on? Or will they cut costs by cutting back on professionals? I can guarantee you that people who work at bookstores cannot help you find information either in books or on the internet the way that a trained, experienced librarian can. The idea is ludicrous.
I found someone online who supports privatizing libraries. If you like his point of view, then I suppose you can agree with him. I, however, find it repugnant.
The Moral Argument
Yet public library privatization remains a compelling option. One can make a strong moral argument that taxpayers should not be burdened with the costs of maintaining public libraries. Although figures vary, it is common for many people (in my county, a majority) to decline to use library services. Yet they are forced to pay taxes for their upkeep. As such, funding public libraries amounts to thievery.
Additionally, as people in a society have different mores, shall taxpayers be forced to support materials that they find objectionable? Just as many conservatives objected to tax-supported art, such as Robert Mapplethorpe's photography, others may object to paying for the purchase of Zane novels or pornographic westerns with their tax dollars. Conversely, liberals have good cause to wonder why they should be forced to pay for Rush Limbaugh books or Left Behind recordings.
In a private library, people can choose whose ideas to support with their money. Their money is not forcibly taken from them to support values that they find objectionable.
Basically, if you're not a rigid, self-righteous Christian, you might not want to be in favor of privatized libraries, as they'll soon be rid of anything you might like to read.