rusq: Vol. 52 Issue 2: p. 159
Sources: Privatizing Libraries
Ola Carter Riley

Biomedical Librarian, Prairie View A & M University, Prairie View, Texas

This short but concise book discusses the core issues surrounding the privatization of public libraries. From the beginning to the end, the reader is presented with strategic directions and pointers for library employees, the community, and other stakeholders considering privatization of their library. The authors explore the meaning of privatization, from a historical perspective to the most recent definition, making a clear distinction between privatization and outsourcing: “Privatization is the shifting of library service from public to private sector through transference … . [whereas] “outsourcing involves transfer to a third-party or outside vendor” (1). In addition, the authors explain various policies on privatization of public libraries given by the American Library Association (ALA) and several state library organizations. Such policies often differ. “ALA opposes the shifting of policymaking and management oversight of library services from the public to the private for-profit sector” (2), but two states’ library organizations (New Jersey’s and Massachusetts’s) endorse privatization if the process adheres to certain essential stipulations. California, by contrast, has privatized some of its library systems but still “believes [that] public libraries are a … community resource that should be just that: public” (3).

The authors examine the privatization process undertaken by libraries from four different states: Kansas, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and California. The examination focuses on three major aspects: contracts, requests for proposals, and data analysis. Information about the process was provided by each library system and includes perspectives from the library’s directors, board of trustees, city officials, and the contracting agency. In addition, information was gathered from each library system about the privatization process’s timeline, contract negotiation, and effects. Some libraries also provided advice and outcome comments.

The final chapter presents the reader with potential obstacles to privatization as well as potential results. Some concerns to be addressed are staff changes, loss of community, and loss of transparency. In the words of the authors, “As the trend toward privatization of public assets is gaining traction … there is no doubt that this trend includes public libraries… . The simplest piece of advice for this scenario is, simply, be prepared” (37). This book is a valuable resource for librarians in general and public librarians especially.



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