Administrators in Hernando County are considering outsourcing one of the last bastions of publicly free information: libraries.
The proposition came after news of a county-wide projected revenue loss of $10 million, according to the Hernando Today. County administrator David Hamilton said privatizing the library system could maintain the level of service while saving $500,000 in yearly operating expenses.
Hernando already cut its budget by $800,000 last year, resulting in less staff and services. Privatization could provide mixed results, but should be rejected on principle.
Libraries are constructed with the intent of providing a service to the public — to provide information to anyone willing and eager enough to seek it. This access should not be restricted, and businesses should certainly not be profiting from and interfering with such a basic human pursuit: the acquisition of knowledge.
This holds especially true in a country with a historic emphasis on social mobility. The American dream that anyone can succeed if they try hard enough may need to be abandoned if restrictions are given to the “great equalizers,” public education and free information.
Hernando’s option to privatize libraries will see committee April 7. If county commissioners adopt it, it could set a new precedent of disenlightenment in Florida. Other counties may follow Hernando’s lead, seeing only an opportunity to save funds rather than considering the effects this will have on those with lower incomes.
It could ultimately create a dark age for those without the privilege of Internet access or money to purchase books — potentially wounding an already weakened library system.
Privatization also creates accountability issues. Workers at outsourced libraries are
beholden not to the public directly, but rather the company that employs them. Though public funds will likely be used to support the private library, there isn’t direct accountability from employee to taxpayer. The interests of the company’s profit margin will most likely always come before the interests of the public.
Libraries may seem like a luxury to some, which is perhaps why they’re some of the first targets of budget cuts. However, they are all but necessary in society. In times of economic hardship, many turn to libraries as a means of learning new job skills, constructing resumes and searching for employment. Public libraries should be held as sacred institutions necessary for the posterity of human knowledge.