Privately-Run v.s. Public Libraries

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog is solely those of the author and does not reflect the views and beliefs of the Hawaii Public Library System in any way. This is strictly my opinion and understanding.

There’s an interesting debate going on in a group I’m a part of regarding privatized public libraries. It centers around this link: Are Privatized Public Libraries So Bad? which was posted on the The Atlanta Cities website. There are many valid points and arguments, but it is a heated debate. Many participants are passionate about libraries and their role as quality information agents. Many of the participants have worked in libraries and/or continue to work in public libraries so it hits close to home for most of them.

I’ve been a patron of our public library system for as long as I can remember. I absolutely love it! I’ve used my library for all sorts of things. I love to read so I borrow a lot of fiction. I love to research so I borrow a lot of non-fiction. And when computers made its way to the library, I used the computer for research. I’ve used their access databases for research as well. So I’m a huge fan of our public library.

In addition to being a patron, I recently became an employee of this wonderful institution. During the first portion of my orientation, the head librarian of my branch went over the mission of the library system:

“To provide Hawaii residents, in all walks of life, and in each stage of their lives, with access to education, information, programs and services, and to teach and nurture the love of reading and the habit of life-long learning.”

Hawaii Public Library Systems – Mission Statement

I have to say, this mission statement aligns with my personal values, with Personal Growth and Development being one of them.

So I’m all for public libraries. However, I see the struggle our public library systems go through and more so now that I’m a part of it. Before becoming an employee, the Friends of the Library did a promotional series on the benefits of the library. This ran parallel to budget talks about funding cuts statewide for all branches of state government. It worried me then, that was about five years ago. It worries me now, especially with the shift in the roles of libraries that seems to be taking place. More and more patrons are asking questions like: “How do I use the internet?,” “Can you help me with my résumé?,” “Can you type out a business letter?” Not to mention that some of our free services get really negative complaints: “My request will take how long to fulfill? Three to six weeks? Why so long?” And then we have to explain since we use the cheapest available shipping to make sure the service remains free, the cheapest available also takes the longest route to get here.

The help that I’m being asked for everyday seems very different from the help I was given while growing up. And even though the Information Age seems to be in full swing, it seems that libraries are still trying to figure out how to accommodate this new age.

I think this is what determines whether privatization is a good thing or a bad. And I feel it is on a case-by-case basis. For the most part, I believe that it can be a very good thing. Many people fear change and I’m not saying that privately-run public libraries are without fault. There’s always room for corruption and the quality of service may waiver, but it is the same for a public sector as well. Should I shun the idea of a privately-run library based on the possibility that it may be a bad thing? Should I completely rule out the idea based on a what if? What if a privately-run library was owned and operated by someone who felt the same way, someone who shares that vision?

I don’t think privatization is the answer for everything, but it is an option that should be considered. Any business can be good business if it’s run properly and sticks to its vision and mission statements. And that applies to both the private sector and public sectors.

Other Sources:
“The Difference Between the Private and Public Sector.” Privacy Sense. Accessed 07 August 2013.

Erikson, Amanda. “Are Privatized Public Libraries So Bad?” The Atlantic Cities. Last modified March 28, 2012.

Hawaii Public Library Systems. Accessed 07 August 2013.

“Outsourcing and Privatization.” American Library Association. Accessed 07 August 2013.

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In a 140 characters or less: I'm an easy going, movie geek, TV buff, book-loving, melancholy/phlegmatic, Scorpio kinda gal.