Privatization of a public library

Short description of the problem: Privatization of a public library to secure its existence and quality functioning
Country: USA
Type of local government: Town
Name of local government: Palm Springs, California
Years of operations: 1992 – present

Detail description of the problem

The threat of closure of a public library caused by the lack of finance to cover its needs. The town administration decided to support more urgent needs. This would prevent a public from using the library services. Moreover, some social groups such as pensioners or physically disadvantaged would lose the only possibility to get to these services at all, as the library had been the only one in the town. Also, the closure of the library would mean an immense loss of historical and cultural heritage, as the library had a long-lasting tradition there.

Detail descriprion of the solution strategy

The administration of the town was forced by public to change an original pan to sell the library to a private developer, who had intended to use it for another purpose. An important fact was that the land had been donated to the town in 1938 by the Murray family on the condition that it would be used for a library. That was why it came to the town´s first library privatization ever. In this way the library got into the hands of the citizens and it began its new life as a private volunteer enterprise run by a newly incorporated non-profit foundation. Changing the ownership status, mainly the increase of people´s incentive was expected in order to help the library to bounce off the bottom. It needed help especially in the areas such as maintenance of the building (before, no prevention took place, and the problems were solved after they occurred), donation of the books and others materials from the private collections, fund raising activities and so on. Another advantage of this form of ownership should have been the fact, that the whole profit gained would return back to the library to support its development.

Description of the results

One of the results of privatization was noticeable quality increase of the services and more effective allocation of the costs. The main reason was that since the privatization process, real money of real people was used, so it must have been used rationally. The building that had not been properly maintained for years was completely reconstructed exclusively by volunteers. And the citizens of Palm Springs gave books by thousands. Less than two years after transformation the library contained more than 8000 volumes in its collection – 5000 more than it had as a publicly funded library – while more and more arrived every day. The incentive of the citizens also led to another interesting ideas that would have been unthinkable before. The library developed an extensive collection of documents and books, including rare and first editions on the history of California and their town Palm Springs.


Peter Tóth

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