Submitted by Heather Hill

School of Information Science & Learning Technologies

University of Missouri – Columbia

Contact: [email protected]


“An Examination of the Collection of a Privately Managed Public Library System”


Abstract: The phenomenon of privately managed public libraries has grown in the last few years. This growth leads to questions about the possible negative effects that private management may have on the breadth and depth of the collection. The collection of one public library system that has been privately managed since 1998 is examined and compared to other systems of comparable size in a number of areas including poetry and biography. Poetry and biography are two categories that seem to be the easiest categories for reduction – if cost saving through reduced materials selection is the goal.



Relationship to Conference Theme: There is a concern expressed in the literature and through some listserv postings that privately managed public libraries may adversely affect the public library’s relationship with its community. Citizens in some communities whose libraries are contemplating outsourcing management have also expressed concern about the idea.



As yet, privately managed public libraries are a little researched phenomenon. This research will assist in the growth of knowledge that will be relevant to both public libraries and their communities.



Intent: This study investigates the collection development practices of a privately managed public library system and compares it to traditionally-managed systems in order to understand if there is a difference in practice between the two types of organizations.



Scope: The catalog of one privately managed library system, Riverside County, California, was examined to look for popular titles in poetry and biographies. These results were then compared to the collections of four comparably sized library systems. Riverside County, California was the only privately managed library chosen for this research due to its significance as the system that has been privately managed for the longest time (since 1998).



Research Questions: Does the collection of a privately managed public library vary significantly from its peers: traditionally-managed public libraries of comparable size?



Methods: The catalogs from the selected libraries were searched for pre-selected titles in poetry and biographies. 



Research Base:

Budd, J.M. (2006). Politics & public library collections. Progressive Librarian, 28, 78-86


Budd, J.M. & Wyatt, C. (2001). Do you have any books on…Public Libraries, 41(2),

            107- 112.


Craddock, S. (October, 2005). Centralising stock selection narrows the vision. Library & Information Update, 4(10), 20.


Goodman, J. B., & Loveman, G. W. (1991). Does Privatization Serve the Public Interest. Harvard Business Review, 69(6), 26-38.



Significance: The public library has a unique relationship with its community that is unlike other public services. Libraries are voluntary use organizations – most people do not believe they have to use the library. As such, libraries need to maintain a positive relationship with their community. Better understanding of the collection development practice of privately managed public libraries will shed more light on this phenomenon and will assist the libraries and their communities in decision making.