In September 2004 a report was published titled “Taxpayer Return on Investment in Florida Public Libraries: Summary Report“. The survey based report done by the University of Pennsylvania states, “In 2003-4, an estimated 11.8 million people visited Florida public libraries in person. Adult Florida residents form the majority of visitors, but tourists form a surprising 29 percent of in-person visitors to the libraries, although they account for only 5 percent of visits as they tend to visit just once. Over half of Florida’s adult resident population and over a third of all Florida children make in-person visits to Florida’s public libraries. Approximately 13 percent of adult Florida residents and an unknown number of Florida children connect via the Internet to the public library.”
The report justifies taxpayer financed public libraries.
Recent experiences with privatized libraries may make the findings of this report null and void. Scott Reeder from Watchdog.org writes, “Public libraries are near sacred institutions in our communities but in a time of escalating municipal debt they have become increasingly vulnerable as local governments look for places to cut. A common refrain among municipal officials is: How can the same of service be offered for less money?”
“A smattering of cities across the nation has turned to private firms as a solution. The results are intriguing,” states Reeder.
Reeder found, “Santa Clarita, Calif., saw its annual cost to operate a public library drop from $6.2 million per year to $4.2 million when they hired a private firm rather than have public employees operate the city’s three libraries, said Darren Hernandez, the city’s deputy city manager. Before a private firm took over day-to-day operations, Santa Clarita’s three libraries were operated by the Los Angeles County Library system.”
Reeder reports that during the first two years of the public/private partnership, significant improvements in service were experienced:
- The materials budget – for books, magazines and other items – has expanded almost 10-fold to $2 million annually.
- Library operating hours have more than doubled.
- Circulation of library materials has increased 15 percent.
- Participation in library-sponsored events such as children’s reading programs has increased.
This all occurred because the City of Santa Clarita did not have to pay the pensions of librarians. Reeder reports, “By hiring a private firm, the city was able to avoid paying public pensions to library workers, [Santa Clarita City Manager] Hernandez said. He added that California public employees have some of the most generous pensions in the nation.”
Given the growing pressure on the Florida legislature to find savings, perhaps it is time to look at the Santa Clarita experience. Taxpayer funded libraries may be found at the city, county, school board and state college/university levels throughout Florida.
A new look at privatization may be in order.