As the United States continues to pursue a more privatized society, it is increasingly important to recognize and protect the public services that remain. One of these services is libraries, which have been providing free access to knowledge, services, and events for many years – and which must now lead the way in protecting against the dangers of privatizing public services.
Since the 1990s, there has been a push toward privatization in many sectors of U.S. society. This has included everything from education and homeless shelters to food banks and welfare programs such as Head Start and child welfare assistance. Even Medicare & Medicaid systems include government payments to privately managed care organizations (MCOs). Privatization often brings with it a host of issues, ranging from decreased access to services due to less funding or cost-cutting measures, to quality issues resulting from a lack of oversight or accountability in certain areas.
In her essay “The Last Free Space” Linda Stack-Nelson salutes public libraries for their invaluable role in providing access to knowledge without requiring citizens to spend money on books or other materials. In addition, libraries offer classes, workshops, internet access, resume help, tax help, and other events that are often beyond the reach of individuals who could not otherwise afford them. Unfortunately, this free access does not extend universally due to late fees imposed by some libraries for overdue materials. This can create an inequitable situation where those who cannot pay may be excluded from taking advantage of library resources – leading some libraries to impose fines that disproportionately affect lower-income individuals or those living in poverty.
To combat this issue, the American Library Association released a Resolution on Monetary Library Fines as a Form of Social Inequity in 2019 which supports eliminating late fees charged by public libraries due to their impact on social inequality. This resolution recognizes that while eliminating late fees alone will not fully rectify disparities between library users when it comes to access or quality (issues such as low budgets or lack of staff may still exist), it is an important step forward in protecting the public services that remain open and accessible regardless of one’s economic status – namely libraries.
Public libraries represent one small part of our larger system of public services – but they are an incredibly important one due to their role as both a source of knowledge and opportunity for all members of our community. As we move further into an era where privatization is becoming increasingly commonplace across all sectors, it is crucial that we protect these free spaces for learning and exploration – for if we allow them to slip away we will be jeopardizing our very ability as citizens to stay informed about what’s happening around us. Therefore, now more than ever it is time for us all – citizens, policymakers, educators, librarians, and beyond -to come together and advocate for preserving this essential service so future generations can continue benefiting from its offerings.