Mike the Mad Biologist

By way of The New York Times, we learn that libraries are being privatized. Having lived in more than a few places, and being the kind of guy who uses libraries regularly, I’ve usually been very happy with my local library. I go to the library, I check out books (and videos), I read the books, and I return the books. And it’s free.

Sure, sometimes you have to wait in line, in the worst case for, like, ten whole minutes–but you get free books (mind you, a couple of days ago, I waited that long at a chain book store for the privilege of giving them my money for books). There are some government functions, where I wonder if they could be done more efficiently: the entire fucking Defense War Department comes to mind. But I’m pretty satisfied with every library system I’ve used. To the extent that I haven’t been, it’s largely due to budget cuts.

So why would a successful, well-liked library system like the one described in The Times article feel the need to privatize? Oh, I see:

“A lot of libraries are atrocious,” Mr. Pezzanite said. “Their policies are all about job security. That’s why the profession is nervous about us. 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 suppose the beatings will cease once morale improves. Or something. Seriously, what I’ve never understood about the whole “cushy government job” argument is, if these jobs are so great, then apply for them.

Anyway, here’s the real reason why I think local governments are privatizing libraries:

Library employees are often the most resistant to his company, said Mr. Pezzanite, a co-founder of L.S.S.I. — and, he suggested, for reasons that only reinforce the need for a new approach.

“Pensions crushed General Motors, and it is crushing the governments in California,” he said. While the company says it rehires many of the municipal librarians, they must be content with a 401(k) retirement fund and no pension.

Actually, what crushed municipal pensions is the unwillingness of local governments to make the needed contributions (the stock market will yield eleventy gajillion percent returns FOREVAH!), but I digress. Again, if this is such a great deal, people should be beating down the doors for these jobs.

Instead, between the unwillingness of local politicians (and, in fairness, some of the citizens they represent) to be truly fiscally responsible and the neo-liberal belief that the stock market can cure all (ask some 62 year-olds how that’s working for them), the great class war against the middle class rolls on.

Comments

  1. #1 Ethan
    September 28, 2010

    the great class war against the middle class rolls on.< \i>

    And it’s working. Given the mixed record of our other wars, why should we abandon our greatest success?

  2. #2 Kate from Iowa
    September 28, 2010

    This is why I’ve always insisted on owning my own books. When I was a little kid, it RIF books. When I got older and had a little job, it was used books, or books sold from the school libraries when they were updating thier collections. Occasionally a college or community college would sell off part of thier collection too. The city libraries? Constantly underfunded, continually understaffed, often unclean, full of homeless lately, and terribly organized besides. In short; hostile, unuseable, impractical spaces. We’ve recently gotten a new, unuseable, impractical hostile space here in Des Moines. Can’t remember how much it cost, or how much they then asked for after the fact because they “forgot” to plan for parking, but it’s…well, I’ve seen better organized doghouses. Privatization? Yeah, right. Someone else begging for tax breaks and handouts and with no real incentive to make the situation any better, just incentive to charge for the same crappy service.

  3. #3 spurge
    September 28, 2010

    Do the privatization proponents think that the people who VOLUNTEER at the library will continue to do so if it is a for profit enterprise?

    Do they think that people will continue donate books and/or money to a for profit library?

    Do these people have clue one how libraries are actually run?

  4. #4 scathew
    September 28, 2010

    And instead of getting happy, courteous, well informed helpers who are compensated for their efforts, we’ll get miserable, stuggling, paid not to care people with attitude.

    And somehow some right wing think-tank, um, not at all “funded” by say LSSI, will come out with funny figures telling how great this is for all of us.

    But then again, when’s the last time John Boner, I mean Boehner, used a library?

    Finally, my goal in life is to see us all paid and treated like librarians – a solid income, job stability, decent respect, a reasonable pension, and not having to work so damn hard.

    Let’s stop trying to bring the lucky people to our level, let’s bring our level up to the lucky people.

  5. #5 Kaleberg
    September 28, 2010

    It’s a pretty standard business model. Find something the government does, but pays living wages for, and offer to privatize it. Promise huge savings, and take over operations. Then you can raise your prices because you already know what the customer is willing to spend, and you might as well get all of it. Since you don’t have to pay living wages, you can also rake in money that way. If the customer notices declining quality, you can tell them to suck on it. It’s not as if they can vote you out of office. So, you will three ways. You charge plenty. You pay nothing. You have implicit tenure. All that, and you make Americans poorer. There’s a referendum on this and hard liquor sales in Washington. I’m looking forward to poorer service and weaker selection as soon as the referendum passes and the business gets privatized. That, and higher prices too.

  6. #6 becca
    September 29, 2010

    When I was a kid, I grew up within spitting distance of a good library. My best friend’s mom was a librarian there, so I spent a ridiculous amount of time there.

    When I went to school, one year we had a little classroom library. They started a reading incentive program, but we only had a few of the books on the list in our classroom. But, I had easily double the number of books from the list at home. So we brought them in (they got a little sticker so we would be able to identify them at the end of the year and I’d get my books back). That was the first time I encountered “not enough money for all the books we need” at a library. It made me surprised and a little outraged.

    When I was a little older, my house had a fire. Very bad smoke and water damage, though everyone got out ok (even the old cat! the fireman just gave him a bit of oxygen and he perked right up). While our home was being rendered fit to live in again, the insurance company put us up elsewhere. At first we stayed in a hotel. I got to play a lot of ping-pong, so that was great. But hotels do get old. The insurance company eventually found a house that was on the market but not yet sold. It was a lovely house, much bigger than our townhouse. It had a big yard (first time I ever mowed the grass- our next door neighbor had always done it at home). The house was in a nice neighborhood in a town about 20 minutes away from where we lived. I went to the library in this town and was appalled. It was TINY. I mean, we had more books than that at home! Or we did, before the smoke damage took it’s toll.

    As a teenager, I had some friends in the city (Chicago). They were great library users, practically connoisseurs. They regularly visited some of the city libraries, but still went out to various suburban libraries (particularly for kids books). I was somewhat amused to learn they were quite familiar with my home library. They assured me it was indeed a good one (I don’t think before then I really thought of it that way- I just knew the one in the town we stayed in after the fire was LOUSY, I didn’t realize my standard was also high from ours being GOOD). Sure, there were still better ones in the affluent suburbs. But ours was pretty solid. And it wasn’t something you could just take for granted! The closest library to where my friends lived? An ITTY BITTY outlet the size of a pretzel stand, in the local mall. In a mall? Seriously Chicago libraries? That’s the best you can do?

    So keep in mind… Living in a variety of places, all with decent libraries, is a reflection of a certain kind of privilege. Not directly correlated with economic privilege (my suburb must have had a LOT less property tax income than the suburb with the lousy library). But something to remind us why socio-economic status has that socio part. Growing up with books, having access to libraries, viewing the printed page as a necessary part of living your life… these are not normal.

  7. #7 Chas
    September 29, 2010

    I keep getting intrusion msgs from my Norton AV when I open webpages here: MSIE Java Deployment Toolkit Input Invalidation. Anybody else seeing these? Sorry if this is just an issue with my Java.

  8. #8 Ted
    October 1, 2010

    I hadn’t heard of library privatization, nor that pensions were the main reason people want to work at libraries. Not sure I believe that. As a liberal, I’ve never heard of anyone except a conservative argue that “the stock market can cure all.” How is that a neo-liberal belief? Finally, you seem in favor of privatizing war. We tried that with contractors like Blackwater in Afghanistan and Iraq. The problem with privatizations of war are multifold – personally, I find it appalling that some company’s executives should profit off of war and be incentivized to make it more expensive and conduct more war. I’d rather permit a little inefficiency.

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