23 April 2008

"Coca Cola Libraries"

Further to there not being enough money (see previous post), I see the BOP Times had a front page story (Tuesday 22 April) about the council considering corporate sponsorship as a way of meeting running costs of the city's libraries . Think for a minute of the implications...

'User pays' - the war-cry of the neo-liberal economic paradigm - has already normalized charging the public for checking out new fiction from a library system that is supposed to be (and once was) entirely free. Although to some the charges are not very high, if it is the choice between a book and a loaf of bread for your kids, you'd have to choose the bread, negating the whole ethos of having a public library. Okay, that may be an extreme example, but as prices rise, more and more families are faced with these small choices every day.

Yet the library system must be paid for - buildings, books and staff all cost money. Councilors, to avoid being voted out of office next time round (and in the meantime, to stop people from abusing them in the streets), want to keep rates from rising too high, hence the bright idea of a corporate sponsor. Coca Cola, for instance.

It is important to remember that a corporate sponsor doesn't give something for nothing. Tax advantage is only the beginning. Once a public service like a library begins to depend on corporate sponsorship, the sponsor can demand all sorts of changes to the way the service is run.
Ads polluting the walls, and studious library staff wearing the sponsor's logo, naturally. The former quiet of the reading areas now filled with piped advertising jingles, subliminally soft, of course. And a Coke machine in the children's section, now there's an idea.

It could be worse. A sponsor could object to certain sorts of books, and cause them to be removed from circulation. Alternatively, ads and publications might be included with every book checked out, or the library users' reading preferences used for purposes other than library statistics. Hours might be curtailed, branches closed, buildings reassigned, staff laid off, all at a sponsor's whim.

But the worst thing would be for a sponsor to bring the 'user pays' whip to bear, charging for every withdrawal and effectively curbing the free flow of public information to those who cannot afford to subscribe to any other meaningful or relevant source. (I can't think of television news as meaningful or relevant, and radio isn't much better.)

The Council's other options are to close branches, open cafes in other branches
, charge more for more books... hang on, except for the advertising they sound like corporate sponsors. Stuck with an economic system that keeps this country and every other country on the debt treadmill, what is a poor beleaguered council to do?

One of the things they could do is call for a fully-funded, integrated national library system to be reinstated. This is just one of the many areas of public education that should be funded by debt-free public money created by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.

Let's step away from the neo-liberal economic paradigm that turns our public services into salable commodities, before we lose our precious libraries altogether. Do nothing, and the next generation will only know a public library as a quaint, archaic idea from the olden days.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Libraries should be public utilities, too much Coca-Cola produces physical dis-abilities..