Results from the 60-Second Survey: Privatization of Public Libraries

For the past month, library staff have weighed in on our survey about the privatization of public libraries.  More than 2,500 people from every state and 15 countries responded, making this our most popular 60-Second Survey yet.  The nearly 1,500 comments we received with additional thoughts on privatizing the management of public libraries made it even more clear that this is a topic of great interest to library professionals and other stakeholders.

Given an either-or choice, survey respondents overwhelmingly sided with public sector management, with 86% agreeing with a statement that management should remain in the public sector so that profit does not become libraries’ primary objective.  The other 14% agreed that management should be privatized if it means that libraries can do a better job of providing services and materials to patrons at lower costs.

Should management of public libraries be privatized if it means lowering costs, or remain in the public sector so that profit doesn’t become libraries’ primary objective?

Survey respondents identified whether they thought public or private sector management was more likely – or equally likely – to achieve a list of outcomes for public libraries.  Public sector management scored the highest, by far, on all factors but two:  reducing operating costs and making library operations more efficient.  In these areas, respondents were closely split among the three answer choices, with around 1 in 3 voting for each (the public sector, the private sector, or both as equally likely to achieve these outcomes).

What type of management is more likely to achieve the following outcomes in public libraries?

At least 3 in 4 respondents identified public sector management as the best way to improve the quality of library services, increase the relevance of libraries’ collections, employ qualified staff to meet community needs, and protect patron privacy.  Public sector management drew even more support – from nearly 9 out of 10 respondents (88%) – when they considered the library’s ability to serve all the members of its community and the strength of the library’s connection to the community it serves.

What type of management is more likely to achieve the following outcomes in public libraries?

More than half (53%) the respondents reported that a public library should be run like a public service rather than a business, but almost as many (42%) said it should be run like both.  Just 2 percent thought that a public library should be run like a business.

Should a public library be run like a public service or a business?


Eight in 10 (82%) respondents thought that privatization would have a negative impact on library staff’s job security and benefits or retirement plans.  While the majority (66%) thought the negative impact would also extend to job prospects for degreed librarians, a higher percentage were unsure of the potential impact (17%) or thought privatization would have no impact on job prospects (9%).

Stay tuned for a more in-depth report of survey results in an upcoming Fast Facts.  Until then, we’d love to hear your thoughts so far – please leave comments below!

~ Jamie H.

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LRS is part of the Colorado State Library, a unit of the Colorado Department of Education. We design and conduct library research for library and education professionals, public officials, and the media to inform practices and assessment needs. We partner with the Library and Information Science program at University of Denver's Morgridge College of Education to provide research fellowships to current MLIS students.

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