Now They’re Coming For The Library

I have tended to laugh when enraged Rightwing parents demand that schools and/or libraries “ban” book X or Y–in our digital age, access to that material is generally a click away. And that’s in addition to several organizations pushing back with offers to send a free copy to any kid who makes a request.

As a parent, I learned early that if you want to get a child–or especially a teenager–to read something, the most effective thing you can do is tell them they can’t.

But there are some more insidious ways to subvert American libraries, and I recently came across an article highlighting one of them.

The article began by pointing to the great value of America’s public libraries

“There aren’t many truly public places left in America,” Jennifer Howard writes in Humanities Magazine. “Most of our shared spaces require money or a certain social status to access. Malls exist to sell people things. Museums discourage loiterers. Coffee shops expect patrons to purchase a drink or snack if they want to enjoy the premises.

“One place, though, remains open to everybody,” she continues. “The public library requires nothing of its visitors: no purchases, no membership fees, no dress code. You can stay all day, and you don’t have to buy anything. You don’t need money or a library card to access a multitude of on-site resources that includes books, e-books and magazines, job-hunting assistance, computer stations, free Wi-Fi, and much more. And the library will never share or sell your personal data.”

It’s evidently the fact that libraries are “public” that most irritates the Right. The article takes an in-depth look at the private company currently pushing a privatization agenda, adding the current political assault on history, diversity, and racial justice to the purported glories of privatization.

That’s what what happened in Huntsville, Texas, where the city council voted to outsource the Huntsville library’s operations after some residents objected to a book display themed around Pride Month.

Lest you shrug and think “well, of course– it’s just Texas,” think again.

According to the article, a one-time software company called Library Systems & Services (LS&S), backed by  Argosy Capital Group, a private venture firm, has doubled its size and in the past decade has taken over 17 library systems in five states. It runs over 80 branches, and is now the nation’s fifth-largest library system.

So what happens when the private sector takes over a public good–in this case, the public library?

When LS&S takes over, it receives a set fee from a local government. The corporation gets control over the collection, services, and programs. Most important, it takes over staffing. Librarians at these facilities are no longer public servants; they serve at the pleasure of LS&S. Although it has been building its portfolio since the late 1990s, LS&S has met with little competition; its CEO likes to brag that it boldly goes “where angels fear to tread,” namely, into local fights with committed activists who love their libraries and librarians. The LS&S proposal to privatize the Prince William County, Maryland, library would have achieved its promised savings by laying off 20 percent of the staff, trimming benefits, and cutting pensions. The library trustees said the proposal was “unfair to employees” and rejected it.

The American Library Association has outlined numerous issues surrounding privatization of libraries: “quality of library services, loss of local community control, governance, loss of control of tax dollars, and collection development.”

The ALA also pointed out that privatization often leads to the loss of community involvement with foundations, nonprofits, and Friends groups.

During the pandemic, local public libraries served as community hubs providing a variety of services; in addition to other services, they distributed more than 2.5 million free, at-home COVID-19 test kits. Forgive me if I don’t see a for-profit, private operator doing that–or providing the other numerous free services that our local library provides–everything from access to computers for poor kids whose homes lack them, to help with tax returns. (Somehow, I doubt these privatized libraries host Drag Queen story hours, either–and I’m sure that’s one reason proponents support them.)

Citizens depend upon their public libraries for access to information–all sorts of information, whether their neighbors approve of that information or not.

Wikipedia identifies five fundamental characteristics of public libraries: they are supported by taxes; they are governed by a board to serve the public interest; they are open to all, and every community member can access the collection; they are entirely voluntary, no one is ever forced to use the services provided and they provide library and information services services without charge.

Wikipedia says “Public libraries are considered an essential part of having an educated and literate population.” Precisely what the Right doesn’t want.


  1. Of course, they have the dumbest congressional members and you don’t want your citizens smarter than their government, right? Don’t come for the libraries!

  2. As local senior management of one of the largest youth organizations in America and overseas, I wanted to know what I needed to know about pedophilia and insight into genuine strategies to immunize the culture of the organization to prevent child abuse.

    My first inquiry was at the local public library with the largest collections. I went directly to a librarian to disclose my purpose and verification of my identity. He then took me to a section and pulled a title: ‘Weeping in the Playtime of Others’ authored by John Wooden. He escorted me to a secluded area and offered to bring me other references to take as many notes as I needed. He said when I was done, just leave the books where they are and tell me when I leave.

    The librarian understood my need for discretion but most importantly, access to scholarly work on a most sensitive issue.

    I called the author, John Wooden, and asked if he would be available to come to Houston to train my staff and volunteers. I reported what I was going to do with our Board of Directors. Members of the board said this is too important to our community to just train our staff. The largest grocery store chain, the largest gas retail chain, and the largest department store chain banded together to underwrite a ten day series on the local NBC affiliate during evening prime time featuring John Wooden to reveal to an entire metropolitan area the profile of various child lures vs. any profile of individuals.

    The most vicious critics of the series were those who had a belief pedophiles were homosexuals. The evidence and thousands of interviews with felons behind bars for crimes against children did not support their beliefs.

    The series won for the local NBC station top market ratings moving up from #3. It began with a discreet visit to the library and a most helpful librarian at a time I did not know where else to go or begin.

    AND … our staff knew what we needed to know to prevent child abuse under our watch with children entrusted to our care as all enrollment targets exceeded expectations.

    The public library is more often than not the unsung hero.

  3. Wow. To Mr. Lineweaver regarding his post above, a noteworthy testimony of a dramatic example of the value of public libraries that I had not considered before.

    Thank you Prof. Kennedy, an excellent and timely post. I value my local library, but mostly for reading books and renting movies. I am vaguely aware of the services that our local libraries provide in terms of read each and expertise but have rarely used them for that purpose.

  4. “When LS&S takes over, it receives a set fee from the government.” So the taxpayers are still footing the bill, but are now paying enough for the service to provide LS&S a profit. It certainly seems to be a deliberate plan to rip off taxpayers, promote ignorance and reinforce subjugation of those already living in poverty. Thanks for alerting us to this, Sheila.

  5. “Wikipedia says ‘Public libraries are considered an essential part of having an educated and literate population. ‘Precisely what the Right doesn’t want.”

    DJT crowed in 2016, “I LOVE undereducated people!” and the crowd (mob) roared its approval. American exceptionalism, indeed.

  6. The apparent rise of LS&S to the nation’s fifth-largest library system is scary and evokes Orwellian fears in the privatization of numerous public libraries.
    Casting a spotlight on the role of truth and facts in our society and the ways in which those truths can be insidiously manipulated by handing over the keys of our public libraries to organizations such as LS&S is vitally important work.
    Sheila, thank you for making me aware of this activity.

  7. Another blast from the past, The Helsinki accords.

    Article 7 in section 1, ” respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. ”

    Article 8 of section 1, “equal rights and self-determination of people’s. ”

    There was much fanfare concerning the Helsinki accords, but, it was more idealogish rather than binding. The United States through much consternation, POTUS Gerald Ford signed the accord’s final act. Signatories became influenced at the time by Helsinki watch, which looked for violations by signatories.

    Book burning was a big issue, because it affected freedom of choice and freedom of conscience. Enlightenment was one of the keys, and if you burn books, you cannot be enlightened in any sort of complete manner.

    Throughout history, book burning was engaged in everywhere. Keep the people ignorant, and only allow what you want them to know.

    Books books and other printed literature is usually not just black and white, but, as a cliche, they are 50 shades of Gray!

    The Church was big on book burning, they did not want the Bible translated into known languages at the time. They would confiscate the attempts to translate the Bible and burn them. The church, also, would torture and kill those who were the leaders in The drive to translate scripture into known language.

    Tyndale was a prime example of this, chased by authorities and eventually ended up tortured in prison and sentenced to being strangled and burnt at the stake. He suffered the same fate many of his writings did.

    As free moral agents, humans have the unrevocable right to conduct their lives as they choose. No other human who is a free moral agent can infringe upon those rights. That was/is guaranteed in scripture. The church never wanted that to come to any sort of an avail! Why? Because, the written word can be used as a bright light to guide your path way, and the church had a lot to hide concerning their Dogma and such.

    When people decide to remain ignorant in the face of valid counterarguments and truth telling, there is not much one can do as those people are Free Moral Agents and choose to be ignorant. Which is their right of course! John the 8th chapter is a prime example of this sort of conversation.

    So, what a person reads or what a person allows to be burnt, whatever a person’s opinion is, whether it’s based on fact or fiction, is there right! As free moral agents, IE possessing free will, they have the right to be enlightened or remain ignorant. Will fully ignorant, willfully deluded, is antithetical to truth!

    Laura Fermi the wife of Enrico Fermi stated that “Ignorance is never better than knowledge.”

    Thinking and rational individuals refute ignorance and prefer enlightenment rather than stumbling around in the dark.

    Wisdom and knowledge are most desirable, but what is the antithesis to wisdom and knowledge? Stupidity and ignorance! And it doesn’t matter if stupidity and ignorance is willful, it has the same effect.

    Those who choose ignorance and stupidity are allies of undesirables, those who manipulate and con the simple-minded for their own nefarious reasons but not limited to power and control.

  8. May the ghost of Andrew Carnegie haunt them forever! Interesting that one of the people once known as a Robber Baron, actually helped create our great public library system. Where have all the decent corporate executives gone?

  9. So if people can’t get what they want/need at the local public library they likely will quit using it and look elsewhere. How will that affect the economic viability of the surrounding area? I don’t know the answer except from general experience that any time an asset is diminished it will no longer produce the same benefits at the same level. Here’s a great writeup on the American Library Association’s website.

    This should stand as a warning to the business community that the Radical right’s agenda is no longer compatible with their own. Disney found this out the hard way in Florida with Desantis but I don’t believe it had anything to do with libraries.

  10. Privately owned businesses are profit driven. Private sector businesses promise tax dollar savings in order to secure a typically multi-year contract. Once they get the signed contract they immediately start cutting services and over the course of their contract they continue to cut services to the members of the public that they are supposed to serve. Maintaining adequate services was never their priority.

    Does everyone remember Mitch Daniels’ extremely expensive debacle for all Indiana taxpayers when he gave IBM the contract to manage Medicaid? It cost us billions of dollars.

  11. Due to the Milton Friedman crowd and Reagan’s Alzheimers, the oligarchy has been privatizing government since the 70s.

    All the government-supported programs provided by taxpayer money would be considered government “fat and waste” to the free market supporters. Kevin McCarthy mentioned “government waste” yesterday as a prelude to Congress’s upcoming session.

    Having a private venture firm take over public services saves taxpayer money because they are only interested in profits and increasing shareholder value. Period. Services to the public and employers will not be a priority.

    Remember, Koch and his dark networks made deals with voting blocs, and they have their media to whip up fears of the bigots in our community. The religious right is having a meltdown over the content and Drag Queens reading stories to our kids.

    We’ve had Clinton, Obama, and Biden during this privatization stretch dating back to the 70s, but they’ve followed along in our neoliberalism ways – faithful to the free market. Obama missed the greatest opportunity to stop this wave in 2008 but caved to DNC’s donors.

    How did we allow the privatization of our prison industry?

    Remember Mitch Daniel’s debacle of handing over welfare to IBM to manage? It cost the state hundreds of millions.

  12. Peggy, all the decent corporate executives disappeared after Milton Friedman declared that corporations exist to serve their shareholders.

  13. Speaking of libraries, does anyone know why the Indianapolis Public Library board refused to promote their interim Director to permanent status?

  14. When there is no community, there is no need for “public”…schools, libraries….What’s next? IGIO

  15. This is yet another brick removed from the foundation of our free society. The fascists want it all even to their own detriment. Money lust has blinded them to anything passed the quarterly report. THAT is where the corporate mindset and CEOs have gone.

  16. privatize everything. seems R Riech has a few words about the cash on hand that the rich would like to start loaning to the U.S.Goverment. i thought about this some 30 years ago when the idea of shutting down the federal reserve. seems that hoarded cash is making a shining star for investors to again find a deeper hole for the working class. with many a online loan or get outta debt, no one suggests a living wage,or getting there. now they want to control the reading of those who depend on free access. if states want to sellout the public access, maybe its time to sellout the goverment too. seems what is needed to know why you need a goverment over profiteers who have managed to hypnotise the masses over reality. i guess they could start mass marketing a book to finish their work…and charge us for it..

  17. bumper sticker:
    rich shareholders who deny wealth and living wgaes to
    the working class. ones who steal wages via lobbyists and
    law makers. hoarders who lock money out of the economy
    for thier own needs.

  18. Vern:
    Thanks…seems as myself, non college blue collar, i always wondered how that alumni would finally
    turn out.

  19. Republicans just don’t like books. They are just too dangerous for innocent children.

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