NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 10, 2006

Many of the public libraries in Michigan are subsidized through the "State Aid to Libraries" line item in the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries, but there are a number of problems associated with publicly subsidized libraries, say Laura Davis and Michael LaFaive of the Mackinac Center.


  • They make demands on taxpayers to provide a service that they don't use; moreover, just because a government library doesn't exist doesn't mean that people will be deprived of reading material.
  • Government entry into a particular business crowds out the very private sector service that proponents claim would not occur if government were not providing it.
  • Some libraries have had to contend with funding related questions; specifically, use of internet filters, politically correct book purchases and what does or does not constitute acceptable displays of artwork.

However, alternative solutions exist, say Davis and LaFaive:

  • Stop subsidizing public libraries at the state level; services that are publicly funded can be tailored to constituents.
  • Stop subsidizing public libraries at every level; this could result in many creative responses to keep libraries open to some degree in communities.
  • Government may maintain ownership of the asset but contract out its operation.
  • Public libraries may split the duties between a local, publicly paid staff and a private, for-profit management company for very specific duties, such as cataloging, technical and book-buying services and janitorial and grounds maintenance.

Furthermore, state involvement is not a necessity; local units (and their taxpayers) should make decisions as to whether or not they wish to support a library without subsidies, say Davis and LaFaive.

Source: Laura J. Davis and Michael D. LaFaive, "Booking Privatization: Why Not Privatize Public Libraries?" Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Fall 2005.

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