Is it Time to Privatize the Chicago Public Library System

Is it Time to Privatize the Chicago Public Library System

Yes I said it. I know that privatization is a bad word but the recent library cuts puts the subject on the table. We are fortunate in this community to have three public libraries within a five mile radius. The libraries being Whitney Young, Greater Grand Crossing/Gary Comer, and Avalon. The Greater Grand Crossing and Avalon branches are both less than two years old. The Whitney Young branch would have been new but the construction process has been bogged down with EPA problems and community dissatisfaction with the model presented.

The branch libraries in our community are used for more than book repositories but as community information centers and in the case of Whitney Young a baby sitting service. The two newer branches have attempted to bring programs and resources to the community but because of the hours reductions the attendance at these events is woefully low. Most residents would have to take time off work to attend as the libraries close as most are getting off work. The circulation numbers at all three branches are low because of a lack of popular materials and the lack of technology send patrons to the regional, colleges or main library. Lastly, which is the most disappointing is the partnership the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Public Library is basically non-existent in our community.

So why not look at privatizing the library system? It would help the system make good on the promise, of building stand alone branches, it made to a number of communities. Also, they could restore extended hours to those facilities that justify the need and bring in modern technology (i.e computers, e-readers, etc). When we look at most college bookstores in our city. most carry as many books as our branch libraries. Would it be a strech for them to start a new division to run libraries? Also, creating TIF districts for libraries?

So do we continue to wait on politicians to make this decision and give the contract to politically connected, incompetent organizations(remember the parking meters?) or should residents step up and decide the fate of their branch libraries?


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  • Worlee, this is a very interesting and thought provoking article.

    I'm 60 and confess I haven't been inside a library in 30 years or so. The internet allows purchase of books of all kinds. Articles are available online for nearly all publications. I live in Lakeview and confess to not having a clue where a neighborhood library is.

    With the city of Chicago and Cook County both being in such poor condition financially, no help available from a (nearly) bankrupt state, and a Federal govt in unheard of turmoil, your idea may well be the way to go.

    Didn't the city privatize Midway and the Skyway - with 99 year leases? The city sold off parking meters for what was found to be a scandalously low amount ... another problem ... unsophisticated people making high-level decisions.

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    No, the city did not privatize Midway. The economy tanked and the city could not find a bidder willing to offer any significant amount.

    And if you are a money boy, you should realize one thing--SOMETHING CAN'T BE PRIVATIZED IF IT DOESN'T MAKE MONEY. Take first "I'm 60 and confess I haven't been inside a library in 30 years or so. The internet allows purchase of books of all kinds. Articles are available online for nearly all publications." So, even though libraries in this country have always been free, any base for which they can charge (including putting play slots on the Internet access computers, like they do on the copying machines) is quickly eroding. Then, since the book companies know that the market for print is eroding, they know that they can gouge the libraries for what is left, meaning either that the libraries' cost goes up or they have a collection of 30 year old books (I have seen both). To the extent that the libraries provide either after school services or a community center, the users aren't willing to pay for that, either.

    Maybe privatization could work like transit elsewhere--pay a contractor to hire the labor cheaper than the city can--but the libraries had their layoffs two years ago.

    On the other hand, the Skyway now makes money, the parking meters still do, and that friend of the workingperson Quinn just doubled tolls on the Tollway. Unless the author or you figure out some similar "business model" for the libraries, privatization won't work.

  • I would consider privatizing the Chicago Public Library system IF Chicago can get the meters back from JP Morgan.

  • As a business guy, I'll say privatization of public libraries isn't a a bad word, just a bad idea.

    Private organizations are free to open private libraries as are foundations, as they see fit.

    I doubt we want tobacco companies and Monsanto selecting what books go in the Health and Science sections, or conservative-leaning corporations like Halliburton, News Corp. and Amway weeding out certain selections from the Periodicals section that they don't like.

  • Andy Frye is right. If you think overdue fines are high now, imagine what they would be when a library is run for profit. A privatized public library is an oxymoron.

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