I often grumble about how government doesn’t do things as well as the private sector.
Yet, I love my local library. It’s free to me. I can reserve books online, receive an e-mail when they’re ready to be picked up and go in and grab it right off the shelf and check it out myself in about 20 seconds.
The library system I use is funded by the taxpayers of three counties and it operates more or less autonomously from government, but it is governed by a Board of Trustees who are appointed by the government bodies of the three counties.
I have some ideas on why the library runs really well. It’s the same reason that many police and fire departments run fairly well. While they are taxpayer funded, they don’t answer to centralized Federal department, so the result or thousands of libraries and library systems throughout the country.
Using Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan idea, having this many “experiments” going on allows there to be a natural laboratory for trial and error experiments. When one of the trials yields a successful result, it can be adopted by the other libraries. Just in the last year my library has gone from having book pick-ups behind the counter, requiring staff to retrieve it when I came in, to putting the books on hold on a shelf for me to pick-up. A minor innovation, but one that probably saves the system considerable amounts of labor costs.
But, I still wonder if it is as good as it would be with a private alternative. As you know from this post, I recently signed up for Blockbuster Online. For a monthly fee I get to have two DVDs checked out at a time. Much like my library, I get to reserve online. However, one difference, it’s delivered to my house.