Editorial: Privatizing our libraries?
Published in the Ocala Star-Banner, IN OUR OPINION, JUNE 28, 2015
If you aren’t one of the thousands of Marion County residents who visit one of our public libraries regularly, well, let me tell, they’re pretty nice. More than just repositories for books, they have movies and magazines and are technology centers. They house Marion County’s historical archives and host scores of community meetings and events. And there is staff to help you in a heartbeat.
On top of all that, they’re all relatively new, having been built since the turn of the century.
They are, without argument, real community assets, a point of pride — especially since Marion County once had absolutely the worst public library system in Florida.
So now comes the Marion County Commission looking for a way to pay our firefighters and paramedics more. Rather than ask the people to pay a little more to be assured top-notch fire-rescue services — something most would have no qualms about doing — our commissioners think it might be a good idea to privatize our public libraries to save money. Oh sure, a privatized public library is an oxymoron, but so apparently is political leadership.
Anyway, with budget season upon us, the commissioners have decided the best way to balance the budget is to cut funding for libraries, parks and animal services, quality of life services that all are used by large numbers of the citizenry. The libraries, for instance, had more than 826,000 visits last year alone.
The commissioners are talking to an outfit that has found it profitable to take over public libraries. Oh, they won’t take on the maintenance and repairs, or buy new computers or reach out to the community to see what more the libraries can do. They just want to get their hand in the public till for private profit.
And according to Nancy Young of Friends of the Library, who has met with the commissioners about the privatization issue, the majority of the commissioners are “very interested” in how Library Systems and Services Inc., or LSSI, can cut the county budget.
Of course, rest assured, if LSSI does take over the libraries, which last year had a $6 million budget, they will find their profit by cutting people and services and, most likely, assessing new fees and charges.
True to form, the commissioners have had all their discussions about the public policy sea change in secret, meeting individually with the LSSI folks.
I talked to a reader who is infuriated about another the commission considering putting this community asset up for bid, and he said, “They know the cost of everything but the value of nothing.” Touche!
It’s just a guess, but I suspect none of the five commissioners are what you’d call regular library patrons. But maybe, just maybe, they should stop by one or two and see what these public facilities mean to those who use them. Then maybe they could hold a public discussion about their privatization fervor.
Privatizing our public libraries is a sea change in public policy. It needs to be discussed in public. Stop the secrecy, commissioners. They are our libraries, not yours.