Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Jamie LaRue asks an excellent question.

We already think that Jamie LaRue is awesome for the letter he wrote in response to a patron complaint about the book Uncle Bobby's Wedding. But I have to say that I like the excellent question he poses in his column for the Douglas County News-Press even more. To wit: if we really should run a public service (i.e., a library) like a business, then shouldn't successful libraries attract more investment?

As anyone who pays attention to public funding knows, it typically doesn't work that way. When times are lean, it's hard to get funding because there isn't any. When times are flush, it's hard to get funding because, hey, things are clearly going great at current levels, so why does the library need more? (I've never met an overfunded library. Just sayin'.)

But, if you're an investor (and I am), you know that one common approach to long-term investing is: when an investment demonstrates value (which may or may not be correlated by price), you add money to it.

The thing is, though, "run your public service like a business" is really a euphemism for "do what you're doing with less money", under the tacit assumption that public service providers, even the good ones, must be bloated examples of waste. Such do exist, of course, but in my personal experience the problem most public service providers have is trying to do an increasing amount with less and less. They can't do it all and wind up looking ineffectual.

How about giving Douglas County Libraries, boasting numbers any business would be thrilled to have, more money, and see what happens. Particularly now, when a lean economy has sent library usage soaring nationwide?

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