24 June 2007

Librarians: corrupted by power?

A quote from an interesting article by Tim Coates about UK Libraries in the current Reader's Digest (pdf):

So high have expenses become—and so low is the attraction of the book collections—that the average book loan costs nearly £4...
Of course, libraries do many other things: they answer enquiries from the public, archive local history collections and, increasingly, lend DVDs, CDs and computer games. But still, £4 per book seems a lot, and I haven't seen that figure refuted on the web. Mr Coates hints at the likely explanation:

In one London borough with nine libraries, there are nine tiers of "managers" between the counter staff and the local councillor who is responsible for libraries. The Library Manager, who handles admin; the Librarian, who chooses the books; the Area Manager; a Library Management Team; a Senior Management Team; the Chief Librarian; the Head of Cultural Services; the Education Director and, finally, the Council Librarian. Recently I talked to a chief librarian who said that when she started in Glasgow 30 years ago, the library service had a City Librarian and he was the only person not based in a library.

The default setting for any group in a position of power seems to be to expand the numbers of that group and thereby expand its power. Sooner or later, the founding objectives of the group cease to be its animating force. Instead, self-perpetuation becomes its guiding principle, and control - over people, resources, whatever - becomes an end in itself. Trade unions, universities, schools, religious bodies, and large corporations: they are all subject to the same corrupting influences. Most often, their power is circumscribed at some point by opposing power groups, and it is the results of the collision of these groups that gives us our current political and social system. Big problems arise, though, where the groups have interests in common that are in conflict with those of ordinary people. The UK Library System is a relatively benign example, but it still appears on the basis of Mr Coates' article, to represent a waste of resources that could certainly be deployed more usefully in Britain.

My suggestion is that we subordinate the existence and functions of social and environmental organisations to their goals. A Social Policy Bond regime would do this by inextricably linking investors' rewards to the bonds' stated objectives. Without achievement of those objectives, which would written into the redemption terms of the bonds, holders would not be rewarded. For more about Social Policy Bonds, please click on the links in the right hand column.

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