Thursday, September 27, 2012

A SOLUTION TO COSTLY PUBLIC LIBRARIES



The Auckland super-city has been in the news again, for the wrong reasons.  Rates are being increased, sometimes hugely, to a level often unaffordable for the ratepayer.  In spite of promises made before the last round of local body elections, costs are not being kept under control.  None of us should be surprised at this – Mayor Brown is, after all, the head of a council made of up left-leaning politicians.  Like all politicians of their type, they are known for their ‘tax and spend’ policies.  And Aucklanders are paying the bills.

One solution is to address the costs associated with public libraries – white elephants that are a costly drain on ratepayer funds.  These are not used by many people in their communities.  In addition to staff that is poorly qualified and has a poor customer service ethic, these libraries are hugely under-resourced and unresponsive to client needs.  Funding constraints mean that they are stocked with outdated books, and have limited availability and long waiting lists for popular items.  And yet residents are still forced to pay for this.

There are 3 possible solutions to the problem of public libraries.
1.    Existing public libraries could be placed into community ownership via Trusts.  This way, communities will have control over management and resourcing of libraries.   The venture could be financed through community initiatives, including fundraising and philanthropists, and donations of items and money could be accepted. 
2.    Private libraries, owned by individuals or community groups.  These may be specialist in nature, focussing on a particular subject or group.  Some already exist, such as the one located at Rationalist House in Auckland..  Membership and hireage fees could be charged, and donations of items and money accepted
3.    They could operate as a profit-making business.  This model already exists in the form of video/DVD stores, so it wouldn’t be a big stretch to open libraries specialising in the written word.  Again, these could be specialist libraries, catering to specific interest groups.  Membership and hireage fees may be charged. 

How might these libraries work?  Instead of being a never-ending sinkhole for ratepayer funds, these libraries would be better managed financially, resulting in more accountability to their members owners and the local community.  Membership and rental fees could be charged to help cover costs, meaning a potentially lower cost per user (some fees already charged at public libraries in addition to ratepayer funding, so this would not be a challenge to implement).  Freedom from council and government influence means libraries would not be forced to try being all things to all people – they could be more responsive to user requirements.  Feedback from users and owners could be more easily obtained and implemented without having to work through bureaucratic processes.  Monitoring of each item's usage could assists with cost control as low usage items are removed from circulation.  Staff who wish to may volunteer, especially in community-owned libraries.

Any of these options is fairer than the current rates-funded system.  Ratepayers are not forced to fund what they don't use.  This keeps rates bills lower, freeing up people’s money to be spent on whatever they wish.