Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Privately Managed Library of My Childhood

The library in Brasilia, Brazil, from which I would borrow the books that I read during my childhood was privately managed. Member families paid monthly fees to support the library and also paid for literature and crafts classes. It was a wonderful place of discovery, and it didn't need authoritarian, centralized, inefficient and corrupt government to work. The library didn't survive the changes in demand and supply for its services and has been replaced some time ago by an English school for kids.

You may say that this tiny institution served the interests of an economic elite. Not at all. The only elite that it served was an intellectual one, families that cared about books, literature and arts, and that considered cultural spending to be a priority. In our case it was so highly ranked in the family's budget that membership survived two oil shocks and a debt shock, while during the same period our consumption of beef was cut down to almost zero. Families that wouldn't pay for membership clearly had other priorities in life, such as watching soap operas on expensive TV sets.

And no spending on public libraries by the Brazilian government has ever changed this simple reality.

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