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Will Your Town’s Library Soon Be Privatized?

One of the things we need to do from time to time is to step back and try to get a fix on what direction we are headed. Often we allow others to come in and take control without realizing what has happened. It happens in our private lives and it certainly happens in the public domain.

So over the past 30 years beginning with Ronald Reagan, we have watched our government be dismantled as pieces are sold off or leased to the highest bidder. We also see government services be passed out to private businesses never realizing that if the private company does not perform up to expectations or keep prices in line they will probably not be able to bring the service back in house.

We have seen this happen to everything from garbage pick up to public utilities and now to schools. Whether the privatized business performs or not, governmental bodies for the most part are not willing to put up with the fuss that would ensue were they to try to bring the service back in house.

I bring this up because last evening I had a conversation with one of our local librarians. They are taking an annual survey to see how they can better serve the community. I asked if this was to stave off privatizing libraries. Another person who was listening in said, “What do you mean “privatized” libraries?” I explained that, yes indeed, cities and towns around the country are closing their libraries and letting private companies operate them.

Forced to make tough choices due to the incredibly bad fiscal management of the past decade, cities and towns are looking for ways to at least ostensibly cut budgets. So in many cases some of the less necessary services are the first to go. In many towns libraries are the hub for the elderly and the local school kids and for other groups. They often add that ambiance that makes a town more attractive to new citizens and a reason that old citizens do not move. Yet when faced with budget crises ambiance is at the bottom of the totem pole when looking at reasons to save a service.

I explained this to my friend and mentioned that library privatization is a below-the-radar movement that is really gaining ground. Replacing the taxes are fees and subscriptions and of course a charge to the town itself. And instead of a library that works to be a true service to the town you get a business hustling for a buck. As such the selections are often narrowed (you could say censored) and costs to the user goes up dramatically.

The city of Ventura, California is in the process of considering going down this road at this moment. The Ventura County Star has a great article on what to expect. Here is an excerpt:

“As a private company, LSSI (Library Systems and Services Inc.) can choose to censor library materials. It can do with citizens’ loan records anything not specifically prohibited by a city’s contract.

Most importantly, LSSI is in the library business (an astonishing turn of phrase) to make a profit. It does this by reducing the quality and quantity of library services while charging high costs to host cities, banking the difference to dole out to its shareholders and spread virus-like to other unsuspecting towns.”

The reason this is important in Iowa is because a Republican legislature in Iowa was avoided the other night in Senate District 18. Had the Republican won, the Senate would be split with Republicans effectively in charge with the tie-breaking vote being held by Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds.

Last legislative session, one of the Republicans’ major objectives was to pass a bill reducing commercial property taxes. Inside that bill were some poison pills that would dry up revenues for cities and towns throughout Iowa.

With revenues cut way back, most towns would be hard pressed providing police and fire protection, let alone a library, swimming pool or even cemetary maintenance. I asked our city manager what would happen if that bill passed. He said we would probably lose the library in about 5 years and probably lose the pool at about the same time. In ten years we would probably be looking at police cutbacks.

All this is being done quietly, very quietly. And you know why. This is yet another *perk* of the ALEC legislative agenda.

Next target: municipal water systems!

Note: Michael Moore’s newest book as an example of what you would probably NOT find in a privatized library of the future.

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