Abolish public libraries

Writing for The Atlantic, Barry Greenfield makes the case for library rental fees:

In the early 20th century, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated $50 million to build 1,700 libraries in the United States. There are now more than 9,000 public libraries, not including branches. Around 85 percent of library funding comes from federal, state, and local taxes. The majority (90 percent or more) of that comes from local property taxes.

At a time where the tax burden can often be onerous, doesn’t it make sense to ask library users to pay a nominal fee for a book rental? When municipal budgets are tightened, almost universally the library is left to hang by a thread. Amazingly, when library usage is at an all-time high, I read about library closings every week across this country.

But I never hear any politician or citizen’s group recommending a rental fee to support the library.

Why do libraries get the short end of the stick? For a multitude of reasons, but primarily due to changes in how people have been gathering since technologies like radio and TV came on the scene. Prior to their introduction, libraries were a community gathering place. That’s no longer the case, and in today’s computer-based home environment, the majority of taxpayers in a municipality do not use the public library.

The majority of taxpayers don’t use the public library anymore? So we can get rid of it now, right?

Does that mean we shouldn’t offer the service to the community? Of course not. Instead, the municipal government should give baseline funding to the library, with the remaining funding coming from operational revenue.

Libraries are no longer about books; they have become public internet access points funded, of course, by taxpayer dollars. Not that it makes a difference – taxpayers shouldn’t be funding a library regardless of what services it offers (which also happens to include DVD rentals). It is not the government’s job to offer books and internet access just as it isn’t the government’s job to offer cable TV, telephone service, or liquor (hello Virginia!).

For those that think I’m being to extreme (seriously?) let me ask you: Should the government have bought out Blockbuster and offered movie rentals? Should it purchase Comcast and offer “free” cable television? Of course not.

Charging some sort of fee for use would perhaps be a better model than we have now (I say ‘perhaps’ because government programs tend to grow as a result of new fee revenue in lieu of using it to cut back on public funding), but it’s time to abolish public libraries altogether.


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