The classical debate around the future of libraries is held around the contrast between online and offline media. The library is strong in offline media, that means in printed books, and printed newspapers. Some Open Access activists have argued that this isn’t the future and that Science and information distribution has to become electronically. As a result, the library is no longer needed and can be replaced by Google.
This idea ignores what libraries are today. They are more then only provider of printed books, they have more in common with traditional bookstores and restaurants. And bookstores with printed books can’t be replaced completely by the internet. Because there is a huge demand for such products and this will stay constant at least for the next decades. The good news is, that a new form of debate is possible about the future of libraries, this time with a different spin. Instead of replacing libraries by the digital version, the exciting idea is to change the legal status of the library. Today, all public libraries are owned by non-profit organization like the government or the church. They have endless money, are producing huge costs, but nobody cares, because it is in the public domain. The better alternative is to privatize libraries. That means to transform them into a for-profit organization which is listed at the New york stockexchange like the railway and the postal service.
The surprising feature is, that this debate isn’t about the question if printed books or digital information will have a future. The business of the library (borrowing of printed books) can be remain the same. That means, the libraries didn’t have to digitize their books and they don’t need internet terminals. The only change is, that the legal structure behind the library is different. It is no longer part of the government or the church but the library will become a market participants like Starbucks. In my opinion, this is a great idea and will solve all today’s problem. If any resistance against this developing is occuring, the answer is to raise the privatization level even more. A second advantage is, that this structure is fair to existing companies who are also interested in making a library-like business with borrowing printed books but in former time they were not able to do so, because the public library had a monopoly on this domain. Privatization would help to increase the competition, that means, that different companies are able to run different sorts of libraries and the customer has the choice. Like in the market of fitness studious, where he also can chose in which one he want’s to go.
As far as i can see from a short Google search, the debate around library privatization isn’t held today. It seems, that most participants don’t see a need for discussing the details. But it is only a question of time. This debate will become more successful, then a debate about Open Access which doesn’t change anything.
The funny thing is, that most public libraries are seeing themself as a private service-provider. According to their self-awareness they have customers and are optimizing their return on investment. The library itself beliefs that she is private, at least since 30 years. But this description isn’t grounded in reality, because the public library is from the legal status a not-for profit government organization. Who is wrong? The self-awareness of the library is right, it is a for profit company. The next logical step is to update the legal status.