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Sell The Public Libraries
August 24, 2002 7:31 PM   Subscribe

Sell The Public Libraries Llewellyn says many public libraries have been a disgrace for decades, and, like most public institutions, they are architectural monstrosities.
"They have terrible hours, which they blame on underfunding. Their selection is often severely limited, vacillating between being out of date and carrying only the latest, tackiest bestsellers. Others have gradually purged all books that offer ideas the ruling regime rejects."
It gets MUCH worse! Past threads have shown the average Mefite to be a fan of public libraries, this guy, is to say the least, not.
posted by Blake (48 comments total)

 
only the latest, tackiest bestsellers.

Privitization will of course fix this. CEO won't care if The Samoan Fono: A Sociolinguistic Study or Cultural Models of Language and Thought won't sell; it adds value to carry them as a public service.
posted by rschram at 7:33 PM on August 24, 2002


Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail], is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, and editor of LewRockwell.com.

I wish I could be editor of lewrockwell.com. Sounds like a demanding position. This guy is obviously an idiot and is best ignored.
posted by ColdBacon at 7:37 PM on August 24, 2002


Hey, this guy is getting a lot of media attention...."For more on Rockwell, see his interview in Spintech Magazine. Also read his interview in the Slovakian magazine, OS..." Don't underestimate him!

I like how he asks for donations though, apparently, donating to a library would be bad. I think he wants to sell libraries because the local library won't let him post leaflets on the bulletin board. And this is his plan for revenge.
posted by Salmonberry at 7:49 PM on August 24, 2002


The whole idea of a library is to not to meet the needs of people who can afford to pay for the barrowing of books and internet access, but to assure free access to those of us who couldn't afford those luxuries. (Like my family in its struggling early days), without my local library I would not be the man I am today. A productive member of society, with a world of science and philosophy at my finger tips, not because of my current income, but despite it.

It wasn't the library that destroyed the internet cafe, it was the dramatically lowered cost of computers for middle America. They were the only ones that could afford the overpriced minutes originally charged.

Universal literacy IS essential to a thriving civilization, because its a tool to acquire knowledge. And a democratic society depends on that knowledge to exist. After all its the great unwashed masses that elect the president and Congress, would you want an uniformed fool voting in the men who one day may represent us?

Obviously your family could always afford books. Sir I hope your ignorance bites you in the ass.
posted by madmanz123 at 7:50 PM on August 24, 2002


Farenheit 451, anyone?
posted by spungfoo at 7:50 PM on August 24, 2002


It looks like there's a letter campaign being staged along this concept to boot. Writes one Gabriel Field in our local weekly alternative, the Austin Chronicle, "I don't use the libraries, parks, schools, and haven't called for emergency services. Yet I pay for these constantly."
Gee, suppose his personal EMT just follows him everywhere?
posted by TuffAustin at 8:08 PM on August 24, 2002


All of this being the case, aren't public libraries in this country stilll in drastic need of some sort of reform? A lot of what he says in the article is true; emphasis has long since moved away from research and archiving towards cheap fiction and a large video section. I love the library at my university, but the public library back home is nothing more than a place to get large-print Romance and Western novels without having to pay for them.

I am concerned that we are so quick to defend the ideal of what we think libraries "stand for" in this country that we ignore the obviously poor state they are in, or else think we can fix them with more money. Sorry, serious reform is in order, rather than merely supporting the current incarnation.
posted by Hildago at 8:31 PM on August 24, 2002


A library is one of the most defensible, affordable, guaranteed return-of-investment (if you count intangibles such as literacy, familiarity with literature, easy access to deep content beyond the shallow information available on television, and the only somewhat less shallow internet content) expenditures of public lucre around.

How about some local activism on this if it hits in your area. I don't use the army, either, yet I pay for that constantly... Some things you just need to pay for.
posted by umberto at 8:36 PM on August 24, 2002


Hildago, that is not my experience at my local library, but if true, it does need fixin'. The library is where I went to get the Dickens none of the neighbors had, or a book to figure just what the hell E=MC2 really meant. My library is kind of like that still. Lots of HG Wells...not much in the way of Tom Clancy.
posted by umberto at 8:41 PM on August 24, 2002


While most libraries don't have heavy textbooks and the like, they do have this little wonderful thing called "interlibrary loan." You can get books from other libraries for either free, or a buck or two. When I lived in Wyoming, with a small library, this is the only thing that saved me from boredom. I could get any books I wanted. While your personal library may have mostly Tom Clancy, somewhere there's a library that has just what you want. It may take a week, but you can get it.
posted by stoneegg21 at 9:20 PM on August 24, 2002


I worked at my public library for three years. I quit this summer. I absolutely love the library and everything it stands for. That said, there are things that could be fixed. A lot of the books are dated. A lot of the collection is crap like Harlequin romance novels. At my library, the self help section was more than twice as large as the poetry section. This is at least a bit of an over kill with the self help books...
posted by rift2001 at 9:58 PM on August 24, 2002


I agree to a point that there is a bit much spent on purely recreation, but I still think entertainment is a valid thing for libraries to contain. Most libraries stock what is requested, if you ask about it, or petition them. You can usually get what you need. I don't think the need is drastic, just something to be watched for and correctly when things get out of hand. If it wasn't for my libraries large scifi collection I never would have gotten into computers. One of a libraries main duties is to spark the imagination, not just provide reference and obscure work.
posted by madmanz123 at 9:59 PM on August 24, 2002


Libertarian crank. How often the two words trot along the sidewalk hand in hand. And I'm someone who has at least nominal appreciation for the ideals of yon classical liberalism.

Of course libraries have broadened to include videos and internet access -- because they understood a while back that they were in the information business, not the bound-in-rag-paper business. As stonegg points out, there is hardly a book that exists that your library cannot get if you want it. Even if you have a peeling-paint tiny exurban library, you probably have -- for the asking -- access to the full catalog of any state-funded college library in your state.

Of course libraries fill up with Tom Clancy and romances -- that's what people read. Is there any point to them putting up a display of Applied Quantum Physics, Vol III by the score, and hoping the retirees and unemployed will read them out of sheer boredom? The idea that because you don't see in the front display the most edifying works means the library is "troubled"? What rot. Go beyond that display, take some responsibility for your own fucking reading list, get off that stupid little lily pad you're on where you won't read what isn't pushed your way, and you'll find what you need. Is it possible the library doesn't know that there are people in their town who would rather read Umberto Eco than V.C. Andrews? Have you ever bothered to tell them? Have you talked to a librarian? You'll probably find a kindred soul, a book-lover who feels a tinge of shame that he serves up dreck to the masses. I know a guy who worked in a bookstore, mind you, and had the most visceral reaction to "Oprah's Book Club" -- even though many of the books chosen were exemplary (at least of their genre). My God, people were reading serious books! This is wrong? Stop being snooty, stop blaming the library for not meeting your uncommunicated needs, and make the place your local Amazon.

I'm lucky, maybe. I grew up in a city of 50K that had a library worthy of a city twice the size. It exploded out of a decrepit, slim Carnegie building just about the time I started reading into a modern facility with vast rows of bookshelves. By ten years ago, it was time to expand again, with a major grant from a local industrialist family. My mother worked there for a county interlibrary system that had a catalog of books that rotated through the much tinier rural libraries -- around eight of them -- that were often the size of a gas station, with a single blue-haired volunteer and a copier in the corner. That's what you get in a one-stoplight town. But they worked hard to meet the needs of those people, even as it became easier and easier for them just to come into the county seat and go to the "big library". Even so, it was sad to see the hundreds of books they had to get rid of year after year -- because they had bought new hundreds of books, and there was no place to put them. There, a perfectly good copy of an excellent Vonnegut novel, never checked out in eight years. Here, a first-edition coffee-table art book, its heyday of half-a-dozen checkouts in the 1970s now forgotten. They sure gave 'em the old college try. Nobody even went looking for those titles anymore, though. Whose fault is that?
posted by dhartung at 10:11 PM on August 24, 2002


um, as a library employee I'd like to ask this guy to blow me.
posted by mcsweetie at 11:02 PM on August 24, 2002


Yeah, good ol' fashioned neolibertarianism rears it's ugly head yet again...."Just Sell It...Swoosh!" I was thinking earlier today that there are some fundamental services that should be provided to society. These include; the equal right to education for all, the equal right to basic health care for all, the right to fair and equal representation under the law for all, and the right to a healthy living environment for all. Sure, that's a bit Socialist, but I think even most conservative types can at least see my point. Stark-raving neolibertarians like this joker, however, don't understand the importance of this at all. They view everthing on such an individualistic, personal-right basis that they forget that there are strong social ties that keep the world running smoothly. It would be a colder and sadder world if the government couldn't even provide such basic, vital social services as libraries.
posted by Jimbob at 1:27 AM on August 25, 2002


Dear Mr. Rockwell,

Your argument is well taken but ultimately the same old libertarian swill that is completely blind to the fact that a civilized society attempts to better it's citizens and itself with basic resources for all.

As someone who's worked in a public library system and seen first hand the huge and beneficial effects of a public library system for the poor and disenfranchised and immigrant elements...not to mention children and young adults and adults desperate for improvement of their lot in life, your argument is simply insensitive and ill founded not to mention poorly thought out. I'd much rather public schooling was done away with than public libraries. Fuck you....you dumb bastard and your attempts at public debate. I count myself as one of those "poor and disenfranchised" and education has given me the ability see through and even resort to beating the hell out of anyone who stands between me and my books.


Best Regards,


**********Skygazer >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
posted by Skygazer at 2:11 AM on August 25, 2002


Metatalk.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 5:59 AM on August 25, 2002


The scary thing is, guys like this are getting more and more press, and taking more and more action. In Washington, in a remore rural county -- WA is a state where you can get things on the ballot via referendum -- they are pushing for a move to close their libraries because they are a pointless use of tax dollars [from these people's opinions]. In Seattle, next week is the week when the libraries go dark because there is not enough money both to pay staff for a full year and keep the services at their current [already flagging] level. Yet somehow fundraising continues to work for grand central libraries and other huge "public" expenditures [sports stadiums come to mind].

I have yet to find a library that won't purchase [or inter-library loan] copies of what I want to read. Add to that their lovely public restrooms, clean warm places to sit, and educated staff to chat you up [and you don't even have to buy anything] and for my money, they're the second best expenditure of my tax dollars there is [schools being first, at least where I'm from].

All you need to do to make your library seem more appreciated is go there. Many libraries use their patron counts and circulation numbers to justify their budgets year after year. While they're not pulling you out of burning buildings or arresting criminals, they're public servants just the same, and librarians never give you speeding tickets and generally don't give you a hard time for what you're looking at on the Internet, or reading [even if the other patrons might]. The whole reason the US has a free public library system in the first place is that an educated populace is supposed to be vital to a well-functioning democracy. I'm glad I don't have to get all my information from TV news and presidential press releases.
posted by jessamyn at 6:41 AM on August 25, 2002


There was a time when libertarianism meant active protection of our civil liberties, not rabid anti-governmentalism. Whatever happened to it?

Contrary to the current brand of libertarian rhetoric, the market cannot cure all our ills, and there is a role for government in creating a free and civil society. Somewhere the current crop of libertarians forgot that an abiding love of freedom requires a fertile mind; a mind that can only be created by a good education.

The greatest threat to our innate freedoms comes not from our (mostly) transparent government, but from the opaque machinations of corporations-- to whose mercies libertarians wish to hand over our education and our futures.

I weep for our children.
posted by Cerebus at 1:19 PM on August 25, 2002


The county where the anti-library referendum is taking place is Stevens County, WA, not "Steve County." Llewellyn Rockwell doesn't exactly buttress his arguments by being semi-illiterate himself.
posted by blucevalo at 5:00 PM on August 25, 2002


I am not a fan of libraries whatsoever.

If I want a book, I will buy it, rather than steal food from the author's table by reading it for free at a library. What next? People might start copying and sharing music instead of buying it!

Okay, sarcasm overload, but I don't like libraries because they do not carry books I am interested in, and are mostly old tomes anyway. I can see that the libraries have value for a small slice of the population, but from where I stand, they're useless.

If I can buy the book and read it at my leisure and then sell it on Amazon for a few dollars less than I bought it for.. why not do that instead of waiting weeks for the library to obtain a tatty copy?
posted by wackybrit at 7:01 PM on August 25, 2002


Because you might not have the money to do even that?

Jesus, the programmer-class assumptions that fly around here on a constant basis are so aggravating. Hello, the world is not made solely up of people within your tax bracket!

they do not carry books I am interested in

I assume your reasoned dislike of libraries contains a fair amount of disdain for the concept of interlibrary loan?
posted by maura at 8:38 PM on August 25, 2002


If I can buy the book and read it at my leisure and then sell it on Amazon for a few dollars less than I bought it for.. why not do that instead of waiting weeks for the library to obtain a tatty copy?

I've never been lucky enough to get better than a %50 return off of buy and sell back. In many cases giving them away is a cheaper option. Granted buying new is a better option if you know exactly what you want but I usually start a new project w/ an armload of library books at no risk. Nothing beats the library for bowsing for something new.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:07 PM on August 25, 2002


Our local library has started hiring out Playstation games (PSone only). I thought there might be some educational point to this but the cover-art quickly puts that theory to rest. Want to rent a game? Better be sure you have memorised the opening times ...

Monday 10.00 - 6.00
Tuesday 10.00 - 7.00
Wednesday 10.00 - 7.00
Thursday 9.30 - 7.00
Friday 9.30 - 5.00
Saturday 9.30 - 5.00
Sunday 1.00 - 4.00

It is painful to pay taxes for this.
posted by grahamwell at 5:39 AM on August 26, 2002


grahamwell: Did you mean "rent," as you stated, or "check out?" If it's the former, then you're not paying a single bit of tax money for that service. And you're assuming that libraries don't get private donations regardless. Practically every library in the country has a "friends of the library" type fund-raising program.
posted by raysmj at 6:58 AM on August 26, 2002


Well, in the U.S. If you're in England, I dunno, but I'd imagine it's not all that different.
posted by raysmj at 6:59 AM on August 26, 2002


There was an interesting article (can't remember where - sorry) I read recently that made the point the Libraries are a great way to ensure your general population gets educated, but that once your population is educated, it doesn't need them anymore. The third world has no libraries & wants libraries. The second world has libraries, and wants them. The first world has libraries, but does not want them anymore. (because they can afford to buy books, etc). I don't know what this adds to the argument, but i thought it was an interesting sidenote.
posted by seanyboy at 7:31 AM on August 26, 2002


not paying a single bit of tax money

Ray, without studying the libraries accounts in detail (which you can't), how can you possibly know? These are not commercial services, they are not required to show a profit and are not held to account if they fall flat on their face - which they do, repeatedly. Worse, services like playstation games rental, compete directly with real businesses which are not featherbedded with taxes.

There's great good however in some of what they do - for the rest, well it is part of the problem with public services for which no good solution has yet been found.

Unless you know different.
posted by grahamwell at 7:39 AM on August 26, 2002


Because you might not have the money to do even that?

Maura, I did not have enough money to go to university. Therefore, I did not go. If you do not have enough money to buy books, you do not buy books. Is it 'Socialist Day' on MeFi or something?

Jesus, the programmer-class assumptions that fly around here on a constant basis are so aggravating. Hello, the world is not made solely up of people within your tax bracket!

Actually, I'm self-employed and after deductions I barely scrape minimum wage. Luckily, books count as deductions. So before you throw your rattle out of the pram, no, I do not have a large income. I bet the majority of the socialist lefties on MeFi earn a good deal more than I do. Nothing wrong with that, that's how capitalism works.

I assume your reasoned dislike of libraries contains a fair amount of disdain for the concept of interlibrary loan?

I understand the principle, yet I have failed in previous attempts to locate books at the library, so have written them off as a waste of tax-dollars. Try finding 'Virtual Machine Design and Implementation in C/C++' at the library, even on interlibrary loan!

posted by wackybrit at 10:04 AM on August 26, 2002


Smack me down for not closing my tags :-)
posted by wackybrit at 10:05 AM on August 26, 2002


Maura, I did not have enough money to go to university. Therefore, I did not go. If you do not have enough money to buy books, you do not buy books. Is it 'Socialist Day' on MeFi or something?

Yes, heaven forbid anyone should climb out of their hereditary morass of poverty and pollute society with egalitarian notions.
posted by Cerebus at 10:11 AM on August 26, 2002


grahamwell: I was asking about your use of the word "rent." Why was that so hard to handle?

"Rent," whether you intended this or not, suggests that people are paying for a service. Fees-for-service are a way of avoided using taxpayer dollars. If the games are subsidized, fine, but all I knew from your post was that the games were "rented." I asked if, instead, you meant "checked out." You didn't answer the question, and instead went off on me. Which suggests to me that you're coming from a rather hostile place.
posted by raysmj at 12:25 PM on August 26, 2002


grahamwell: Is this also a limited thing? Or mass scale? And is it just a hook to get more kids into the library? How many games does a typical library have? Urban area or village, what? Libraries, at least most in the U.S., also have annual budgets which they cannot increase mid-year, so a failed program would certainly be a big deal. Does the money for the games come from public or private dollars, what? You've answered none of these questions. I can agree that the competition could hurt the private sector, and I've never heard of such a thing happening in the U.S. - videos, records, etc., yes, just not games - but your posts left me with no clear answers as to what the game rental thing is all about.
posted by raysmj at 12:39 PM on August 26, 2002


wackybrit: If the book is used by universities or colleges in the U.S. and has an ISBN number, and you're living in the U.S., you can get the book via ILL. Otherwise, you're talking about a book that only professionals would ever possibly read, and that's not what public libraries exist to provide, although I guess they could - in theory - if you and hundreds of others agreed to foot all or part of the bill. But then you'd bitch about them putting the private sector out of business. Also, supporting public libraries suddenly makes you a socialist lefty?
posted by raysmj at 12:47 PM on August 26, 2002


Hang on. You implied that libraries are there for the not-so-well-off to read books to learn about things they may wish to learn about.. and to get books they otherwise might have to spend a great deal of money on. That is noble enough.

But I have already said that I am not particularly well-off, and that my earnings are rather meagre.. yet, I have no problem with forking out $50 on a book because I want it, rather than bitching to the library about my lament. If more people did the same, perhaps we'd have some better books out there because people would actually be buying them.

Otherwise, you're talking about a book that only professionals would ever possibly read,

Ah.. so you're saying that any book not used by a college or university and that isn't pulp fiction is clearly for a well-off professional audience? Clearly, if you need a book for your job, then libraries aren't in the business of supplying those things.. but many of us engage in 'professional 'activities as hobbies.. and last time I checked, libraries provide books to help those with their hobbies. It's not my fault that my hobby is rather low-level programming stuff ;-)

Anyway, as I said at the start of this, I believe in capitalism whether I'm broke or rich, and I shall continue to save up my money and buy my own books, libraries be damned.
posted by wackybrit at 4:22 PM on August 26, 2002


Did you request the book at your library? Ask them to carry such things? Ask others to ask the same questions? Written a library director about the issue? Probably not. No, because you're opposed to them for ideological reasons - only you don't have enough guts to say what you really mean.
posted by raysmj at 5:11 PM on August 26, 2002


wackybrit: I do purchase books every year, thanks, and check out dozens from libraries (both local and university libraries) every year. The library introduces me to dozens of obscure authors each year that I'd probably never hear of otherwise, lets me check out books in areas that lie outside my usual interests, etc. I'm a regular library patron, but still head to a book store every weekend (mostly for the newsstand, mind you, but I've purchased several books this year). I'd imagine that's true of most people around here, "socialist lefties" or not. Also, I've purchased more than a few books after reading checking them out from the library, and later having (not really needing them, but y'know) to buy them for future reference.
posted by raysmj at 5:42 PM on August 26, 2002


Ah, so you are calling me a liar!
posted by wackybrit at 6:52 PM on August 26, 2002


No, just saying that you're covering up what is apparently principle with you by saying stuff about how libraries will never carry such-and-such books. For instance, you state earlier that you believe that libraries only have value for a "small slice of the population," but admit that what you were looking for would be sought by an even smaller slice of the population (without giving much indication that you even requested that such books be carried). So what is it? They're supposed to serve a small slice, or just you?

Also, is it old tomes or pulp fiction that libraries carry? I thought they had only had old tomes, according to yourself, now they only have pulp fiction? Why not just go ahead and state why you have a problem with libraries, really? You're opposed to them for ideological reasons. The fact that you'd bring up capitalism and socialism three or four times within one thread (in at least one case within one post) on libraries, for gosh sakes, says enough.
posted by raysmj at 7:48 PM on August 26, 2002


Okay, raysmj. The real problem I have with libraries is that they are redundant in today's society, and keeping them open wastes tax-payers' money.

There were two main reasons libraries became popular.

1) "They improve the literacy/intelligence of the public." - This does not apply anymore. It did 100 years ago when books were hard to get a hold of, but nowadays, anyone who wants to read, can. Schools are also far better than they were 100 years ago, refuting the educational claim.

2) "They can be used to archive old materials so we don't lose them." - Sure having major libraries at the large cities is good so that you can keep electoral records and archive important documents. This does not mean we need a library in every single town.

My problem with the libraries is simply that they are redundant in today's technological society. The money would be better spent on electronic libraries.

This does actually boil down to a socialist/capitalist argument. Socialists have good intentions, but cannot understand economics. Capitalists have no intentions other than to improve and maintain the economy. Therefore, a capitalist would shut a redundant public service down, whereas a socialist would keep it open out of pure pigheadedness.
posted by wackybrit at 9:01 PM on August 26, 2002


After dissing this thread, let me try to contribute something positive to it.

rschram: no, privatizing libraries won't make them more likely to stock books of interest largely to specialized scholars. So? Interlibrary loan may help, but even a university library has been unable to find books I've needed sometimes. If you're in a small field chiefly of interest to others in your discipline, you're probably going to have to buy your books, no matter how library funding is structured.

Salmonberry, you didn't read the article, or you're deliberately misrepresenting it. Rockwell advocates supporting libraries with voluntary contributions.

TuffAustin: yes, it is possible to run things like EMS services on a private basis. Communities that run fire companies privately charge a voluntary yearly fee. Those who opt not to pay the fee still get their fires put out, but they receive a large bill afterwards, the amount based the yearly fee times the average number of years between fire calls to the average home in that community.

There are such things as private 'public' libraries, i.e., ones supported by private contributions and fees for library cards, but that are open to all. I lived for a while in Manchester, Vermont, and had a card at the private 'public' library there.

I am not a public library hater. As a shy, geeky, nearsighted child who loved books, I spent many happy hours in the cool quiet of the Wyomissing Public Library as a child. To me, it was more like a church than a church was, only not boring and incomprehensible, but filled with wonderful new things and adventures. It was a core experience of my youth.

Rockwell makes a mistake in even bringing up whether universal literacy is necessary for a democratic civilization. He doesn't address it, the issue is inflammatory, and I don't even know anyone who questions this idea. Literacy is also the function of schools, not libraries.

He's on sounder ground in pointing out that when public libraries are run by the government, they become political entities, subject to the usual political pressures, both to do things like content filtering of the net, and to stock or not stock books that political pressure groups like or don't like. And stuff like stocking video games and competing with Blockbuster and the like isn't fair to Blockbuster, nor does it advance the cause of a literate citizenry.

I think Rockwell likes to sound outrageous, and that alienates people (look at the reactions on this thread), but his underlying point is worth discussing: are libraries funded by tax dollars and run by the government really the best way of providing ready access to books for kids, the poor, and the middle-class, and helping create an informed citizenry and electorate?
posted by Slithy_Tove at 11:56 PM on August 26, 2002


Silthy_Tove: You mean to tell us that private sector operations have *never* been pressured to censor material? Blockbuster doesn't carry NC-17 movies for a very particular reason. (Neither do most public libraries, mind you, although I've seen them in a couple of university libraries. It's just that you're point doesn't carry much water.) Wal-Mart censors records (with the cooperation of artists and recording companies), and just recently was pressured to stop selling Cosmo. (By comparison, I was told at a small town library in Miss. to leave the SI Swimsuit Edition out and Jennifer Anniston mooning everyone from the cover of Rolling Stone out because there's nothing wrong with the human body.) Anyone remember the Meese Commission's successful pressure on the private sector (e.g., convenience stores selling Playboy, etc.) in the 1980s?
posted by raysmj at 5:56 AM on August 27, 2002


I believe you, but this censorship you talk of, raysmj, just sounds like utter bullsh*t to someone living on the other side of the pond.

Then again, I guess you had prohibition, so it seems small-town Americans have a far bigger say than small-town Europeans!
posted by wackybrit at 6:32 AM on August 27, 2002


Ray, no hostility intended - problem is that I don't know the economics of providing Playstation games rental - there is a rental but it is way below equivalent commercial rates, so I assumed an element of public subsidy.

So I called them and they were very helpful. The library has statutory obligations to provide free books and information access and this responsibility and funding covers the premises, staff, heating, lighting and tax overheads. Beyond this they are free to offer other services as long as they pay for themselves. The library concerned is entirely publicly funded out of local taxation.

Problem is that with all the overheads and staff costs covered pretty much anything will pay for itself. Few private companies have that luxury. Perhaps you can see why there's a problem here.

However they provide a great service with Books, a not so great Internet Access (but it's free) and I am a devoted user of their services.
posted by grahamwell at 7:22 AM on August 27, 2002


grahamwell: Yeah, I can see that maybe being a problem, but I wonder why they're doing it, the rationale. Could be a multi-tude of reasons. An attractor for kids, etc. Also, yeah, I wondered about the market value question. If the market is not even close to saturated, though, it might not matter. Also, there's no Playstation 2? Then they're not exactly hot competition for video game purveyors, I'd guess. (I'm not into games. I wouldn't know.) Video rentals are always made out to be competition with video stores, but I've either found: a) The videos are too old, limited in number or arty to pose much of a threat to Blockbuster b) They're providing an alternative of sorts to the video stores, which are mostly corporate-owned everywhere these days and which carry the same crap, and rarely anything over 10 years old. That's a fairly legit thing. The game thing sounds more like renting out meeting rooms - competition with hotels and whatnot there, although hotels have more additional services to offer - which is just another (although, I'd imagine, fairly limited) means of gaining funds or offsetting costs of required services.
posted by raysmj at 8:19 AM on August 27, 2002


raysmj: no, but there are private tape-lending outlets that do carry NC-17 tapes. For example, here in the Philly area there is a chain of video rental outlets called Risque Video that carries thousands of pr0n titles. There is a much more respectable chain called TLA Video (wish there was one near me, nearest store is in Villanova) that carries both mainstream and non-mainstream releases, including porn (with special attention to gay and lesbian erotica) but also lots of independent films, foreign films, anime, and other stuff that Blockbuster won't touch.

Of course, private businesses also come under fire from pressure groups, but there are usually niches that are immune from them. For example, Risque Video is completely immune to pressure from fundies and 'family' groups -- that's not their market. TLA doesn't care either: they cater to a niche market as well, but a different one. For those in the sticks, there's NetFlix (and before the internet and DVD, there were VHS-by-mail rental outfits).

In fact, you've stumbled onto one of the key libertarian arguments for market-based economic systems: they serve niche demands better than government-run systems, which tend to serve only the 'average' consumer, whoever that is, and unlike government-run systems, they don't need to bow to every political pressure, or cave to every politician's whim.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 8:59 AM on August 28, 2002


Silthy_Tove: But you didn't mention that before, and it still doesn't excuse major chain's giving in to pressure groups who don't see a difference between a quality NC-17 film and porn. Libraries don't have a monopoly on books, either, and were never meant to have any such thing. Capitalism is good that way, though, sure. Who said anything to the contrary at any point in this thread?
posted by raysmj at 6:50 PM on August 28, 2002


Oh, and the existence of niche marketers doesn't change the fact that Blockbuster's policy prevents the making of larger budget, quality NC-17 pictures.
posted by raysmj at 7:38 PM on August 28, 2002


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