Libraries aren't in business to make money

Readers' Letters
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Li Wu reads a Chinese newspaper at the Midland Library in Southeast Portland. A recent Cascade Policy Institute report calls on Multnomah County to take bids for its library system from contractors, or institute user fees, as alternatives to a proposed library tax district.

Let's face it: Private enterprise exists to make money (Privatization saves library from itself, Nov. 17). Only to make money.

It doesn't hide the fact, isn't ashamed of it, touts it as a virtue. Which it (making money) can be. But not at the expense of necessary community needs, which our free public libraries provide.

Not at the expense of democracy, which needs open access to all kinds of information. Making money at the expense of the communal values would rank high in a privately run library.

And 'monopolies' in private enterprise are really far more effective than in publicly-run ones. Effective in making money, I mean. Not in being subject to voters and the communal needs. Private enterprise is not supposed to respond to community or communal needs, since they aren't important to making money.

So, while private enterprise is generally a good thing, it won't help the community nor the communal good. That isn't its goal.

Don't privatize the library unless you want to cut back on anything that doesn't make money.

-June Underwood, Southeast Portland

Let's create more middle-class jobs

From a higher level perspective, why would a goal be to reduce wages and benefits for the hardworking middle class? We should be looking into providing more of these jobs to more people. This is the ideal role of unions (Privatization saves library from itself, Nov. 17).

Why isn't the Cascade Policy Institute doing studies looking into a better property taxing model? Why didn't the Cascade Policy Institute look into the differences of workloads between libraries (ie: circulation statistics)? Who is the Cascade Policy Institute and what is their agenda? Do they get funding from corporations?

-Kristin Wray, Southeast Portland

Tax compression hurts library services

Did the editorial writers of 'Close book on bad library idea' (Our Opinion, Nov. 3) read Jim Redden's feature story about falling property tax revenue (Squeezed taxes put agencies in a bind, Nov. 3)? We wrote about the property tax 'compression' problem in our library paper. That's one reason the county commissioners are going to have a hard time endorsing a new library taxing district next March.

Read the report before you criticize it. We are not demanding 'privatization;' we are suggesting that the county take competitive bids for operation, while maintaining public ownership. This is not a radical idea. Examples abound:

• Jackson County, Oregon wouldn't even have a library system if they hadn't contracted out the operations.

• Timberline Lodge was privatized in 1955. This had to be done because federal management was an abysmal failure. Seventeen years after FDR helped open Timberline, it was broke, padlocked, and on a secret Forest Service list of buildings to be burned to the ground. Portland businessman Dick Kohnstamm created his company (RLK) for the purpose of running Timberline as a successful business, on a long-term franchise from the Forest Service. They continue to do so today.

• Central Park in New York City has been operated by a private group - the Central Park Conservancy - since 1998. They've raised more than $470 million in private funds to invest in Central Park, compared with only $110 million in public funds. How many people are aware that this iconic public asset has been 'privatized?'

Library service is not 'free.' Someone has to pay for the $61 million annual budget in Portland. Competitive bidding for operations, coupled with the judicious use of 'user fees' in place of regressive property taxes, can be a solution to the library's funding problems. Critics should give these ideas careful consideration before dismissing them.

-John Charles

President, Cascade Policy Institute

If library ain't broke, don't fix it

Imagine if you compared Fedex, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service only looking at the number of employees, the number of trucks and the total budget, and omitted the small details about mail and the movement of said mail.

That's what (Cascade Policy Institute's) study does, except here we're forgetting to mention that the work of a library is literacy and the movement of literature (Privatization saves library from itself, Nov. 17).

I did some research at These numbers are from the 2009 fiscal year.

• Circulation:

Portland - 21,513,255

Seattle - 11,914,050

Denver - 9,681,013

• Circulation per capita:

Portland - 29.97

Seattle - 19.79

Denver - 15.83

• Library programs:

Portland - 20,362

Seattle - 4,674

Denver - 8,215

• Staff per 1,000 residents:

Portland - 0.67

Seattle - 0.73

Denver - 0.88

Fewer employees per capita and at least twice as much to do. But those union people must be making like, three times as much money as the other guys, right?

• Staff expenditure:

Portland - $35,060,954($48.90 per capita)

Seattle - $39,013,227 ($64.81 per capita)

Denver - $23,544,874 ($38.50 per capita)

Clearly, clearly, to save it from itself, our world-class, award-winning library needs to break something that isn't broken just to kill off these dangerously cost-efficient jobs and horde literacy for those who can afford it.

Gee, I can see why these kinds of economic solutions are hotter than Justin Bieber tap-dancin' over a smoldering volcano these days.

-Dan Oswalt, Southeast Portland

Libraries cornerstone of democracy

The contrast of views on public libraries couldn't be more starkly clear than those expressed by John Charles in 'Privatization saves library from itself' and Vailey Oehlke in 'Library reflects our community values' (Two Views, Nov. 17).

Oehlke nails what a public library is: a cornerstone of democracy.

I'm amused that during his lecture on monopolies, Charles labels supporters of public libraries 'purists.' Yet, Charles' libertarian philosophy possibly is the purest of ideologies. And nowhere does this rigid philosophy embrace the core principles of democracy. Within its worship of selfishness, there is little room for empathy or fairness.

Last year, our acclaimed and wonderful Hood River Public Library closed its doors, the only countywide closure in the nation. Voters approved a cheapened version this year, but it is a shell of its former self, reduced to support from the equivalent of bake sales. Open a mere 25 hours, just five days per week, and closed by 5 p.m. on three of those days, the library no longer qualifies as 'public': it is open for just four hours per week for those who work.

So far, we've escaped the ten- tacles of a real monopoly, Charles' recommended predator, the Library Systems and Services. John Charles' vision of a privatized future is an ugly one.

-David Hupp, Hood River

Privatizing libraries has consequences

Back in the '60s, Jerry Rubin famously said that ideology is a disease of the brain. The Cascade Policy Institute seems determined to prove him right (Close book on bad library idea, Nov. 3).

Their rigidity of thinking and their obliviousness to the real-life consequences of what they propose borders on mindlessness.

Libertarian? Since when are public libraries a menace to human freedom?

-Peter Shapiro, Southwest Portland

Taxes for libraries are a bargain

Yes, someone has to pay for the library (Close book on bad library idea, Nov. 3).

Some of us think that part of our property tax bill is a bargain. The library system in Multnomah is a treasure.

-Keith V. Orr, Northeast Portland