As the Kanawha County public library system prepares to cut 40 percent of its budget in the coming months, there have been public rumblings about the library's efficiency.
Could the library system privatize, in a move toward greater cost efficiency?
Alan Engelbert, the library system's director, says no.
"The Kanawha County Public Library has never considered privatizing," he said. "At this point the library does contract out various aspects of our operations where it's beneficial to do so ... and we provide very efficient and cost-effective service."
Privatization of libraries is a small but growing trend across the country.
It has its roots in the 1980s, when the federal government started contracting with private companies that handle the management and daily operations of federal libraries. But it's been within the last decade that the practice spread to community public libraries.
Generally, in a fully privatized library system, a city or municipality signs an agreement with an agency that specializes in library management -- the most well-known is Library Systems & Services, a privately held, for-profit company based in Maryland.
The idea is that a private company can run a library more efficiently than a public entity can, what with its bog of bureaucracy and a public to answer to. The city or municipality usually agrees to pay the agency a sum that is slightly less than the library's former operating budget.
In the handful of cities that have opted for privatization, the results "seem to have been generally agreeable and convenient," according to a case study published by the League of Women Voters in 2011. But a handful of libraries have terminated their private contracts, either because they found the situation disagreeable, or believed they could regain control and operate the library more efficiently themselves.