Issue 35, Final Fringe

Privatizing Libraries

by Greg Shupak Issue 3 05.04.2006

Public libraries threaten the institution of private property. It is inherently dangerous to propagate the idea that all citizens should share books, and that books are not commodities.  If we cannot think of books as commodities, we are in danger of thinking the same way about telecommunications, hydro, health care, land, water, and even food.  By allowing a cooperative institution to govern the literary arts, we send the message that people do not have to work if they want to be able to use the books, educational videos, computers, and other amenities that public libraries offer. Libraries create a sense of entitlement that, particularly when poorer people visit them, creates the danger of inspiring a leftist uprising.  Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez are known for offering mass, free literacy programs.  We must disassociate ourselves from programs being run by these types of men.  It is time to privatize the library, to force libraries to compete on an international level, and to fund themselves.

At the very least, we need to attach user fees to the books that are borrowed most often. This way, the market will signal which books are in demand, and those who choose to spend more of their money will be free to borrow these books.  Otherwise, the rich will continue to suffer the scourge of discrimination at the library; this state cartel is a place where poorer people have the right to read books for free, which robs the more affluent of the right to use their money to secure the best available books.  Libraries will be able to use the revenue from user fees to maintain themselves and will no longer act as wards of the state.

At the same time, libraries need to be free to stock their shelves with books that will maximize their revenue.  Public libraries must follow the market’s demand and offer books that people actually want to read.  Supply and demand is perhaps the free market’s most important function:  it determines what is valuable and what is not.  Due to the nature of reading, there is no objective way for a person to prove which books we can learn more from—we can only see which are most popular within the market. shows us that, in January 2006, Mireille Guiliano’s book French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure was among the thirty most borrowed books in American libraries.  Meanwhile, not one of Sophocles’ books are in the top 40.  Thus, if an unregulated market shows that more people want to read French Women Don’t Get Fat than Oedipus Rex, then Guiliano must be a better writer than Sophocles.  Otherwise, why would so many people make a personal investment in reading French Women Don’t Get Fat?  The market can judge which books people want to read the most and libraries must be free to offer more copies of these titles, and less of obsolete ones, thereby granting everybody access to the best books.  Removing libraries from the public spectrum will make them more democratic.  The public system is coercive in that it forces people to read lesser books by failing to offer a higher quantity of the best books.  This is Maoism at its worst; it’s the state telling people which books they can read.  Equally troubling is that the American Library Association reports that Americans made 291,476,000 library reference transactions in the year 2000.  That is tantamount to the United States Government having robbed retailers of 291,476,000 transactions; the public library infringes on a retailers’ right to maximize profits.  Imagine the job creation if all, or even most, of these transactions took place in the private sector.

According to the Online Computer Library Centre, furthermore, the United States government spent $12 billion on libraries in 2000, while Americans made only 4.3 visits per capita to the library.  That’s $43 per capita.  In other words, on average, Americans spent $10 every time they simply went to the library that year.  The ALA offers even more alarming information:  Americans averaged only 1.1 library transactions per capita in 2000.  This statistic shows that it essentially cost Americans $43 to take out one book from the library.  In many cases, this is about twice what it would cost to actually buy a book.  It is utterly tyrannical for a government to spend taxpayers’ money on a service that is so grossly inefficient; the state is interfering with its citizens’ per dollar literary consumption. tells us that the average entry-level salary for library positions is just under $38,000.  These wages are out-of-control and must be reigned-in by market forces.  It is time to stop allowing gluttonous librarians to grow fat off of taxpayer dollars.  The key issue, of course, is that governments use libraries to be paternalistic:  the state takes people’s money and forces them to spend it on books, thus forcing them to pay even when they aren’t reading.  People should be free to spend that money as they choose, even if they choose to not spend it on books.

The National Centre for Education Studies, moreover, shows that libraries in private schools had more than twice as many books per student as public school libraries.  Here we see that a library funded by private money, and subject to competition with other private schools, is able to offer its students many more books than a publicly funded library.  Sceptics will argue that libraries do not prevent people from going into bookstores and buying whichever books they want in any quantity they choose. This argument misses the fundamental points:  that public libraries are wasteful, oppressive, and discriminatory.

Greg Shupak

Greg Shupak

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Greg Shupak lives in Guelph, Ontario.  He has fiction, non-fiction, academia and book reviews. He has published fiction in the literary magazines Event, QWERTY, and Broken Pencil and was a finalist in the Writers’ Union of Canada’s 2008 postcard fiction contest.  In addition, his non-fiction has appeared in, or is forthcoming in, Canadian Dimension and Briarpatch.