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 operation: 1992 – present

Detailed description of the problem

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

Detailed descriprion of the solution strategy

The administration of the town was forced by the public to change the original plan to sell the library to a private developer, who intended to use it for another purpose. An important fact is 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 library first 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 in people‘s involvement – 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 renovation works took place, and the problems were solved after they occurred), donation of the books and other materials from private collections, fund raising activities and so on. Another expected advantage of this form of ownership was 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 a noticeable increase in the quality of the services and a more effective allocation of the costs. The main reason was that since the privatization process, real money of real people has been used, so it had to be 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 the transformation, the library housed more than 8,000 volumes in its collection – 5,000 more than it had had as a publicly funded library – while more and more arrived every day. The involvement of the citizens also led to another interesting idea 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 of Palm Springs.


Peter Tóth