The Secret Cultural Erosion Of Public Libraries: Who Knew?

August 25, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_tNote: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

It appears the biggest problem public and school libraries are dealing with are demands to ban controversial gay and trans titles. While some libraries are facing closures or complete withdrawals of funding, they mostly appear to be in decent standing. Karawynn Long unfortunately discovered that is not the case. She spills the printer’s ink in her Substack post: “The Coming [Cultural Erosion] Of Public Libraries” with the cleverly deplorable subtitle “global investment vampires have positioned themselves to suck our libraries dry.”

Before she details how a greedy corporation is bleeding libraries like a leech, Long explains how there is a looming cultural erosion brought on by capitalism. A capitalist economic system is not inherently evil but bad actors exploit it. Long uses a more colorful word to explain libraries’ cultural erosion. In essence the colorful word means when something good deteriorates into crap.

A great example is when corporations use a platform, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon, to pit buyers and sellers against each other while the top runs away with heaps of cash.

This ties back to public libraries because they use a digital library app called OverDrive. Library patrons use OverDrive to access copies of digital books, videos, audiobooks, magazines, and other media. It is the only app available to public libraries to manage digital media. Patrons could access OverDrive via an app call Libby or a Web site portal. In May 2023, the Web site portal deleted a feature that allowed patrons to recommend new titles to their libraries.

OverDrive wants to force users to adopt their Libby app. The Libby app has a “notify me” option that alerts users when their library acquires an item. OverDrive’s overlords also want to collect sellable user data, like other companies. Among other details, OverDrive is owned by the global investment firm KKR, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.

KKR’s goal is one of the vilest investment capital companies, dubbed a “vampire capitalist” company, and it has a fanged hold on the US’s public libraries. OverDrive flaunts its B corporation status but that does not mask the villain lurking behind the curtain:

“ As one library industry publication warned in advance of the sale to KKR, ‘This time, the acquisition of OverDrive is a ‘financial investment,’ in which the buyer, usually a private equity firm or other financial sponsor, expects to increase the value of the company over the short term, typically five to seven years.’ We are now three years into that five-to-seven, making it likely that KKR’s timeframe for completing maximum profit extraction is two to four more years. Typically this is accomplished by levying enormous annual “management fees” on the purchased company, while also forcing it (through Board of Director mandates) to make changes to its operations that will result in short-term profit gains regardless of long-term instability. When they believe the short-term gains are maxed out, the investment firm sells off the company again, leaving it with a giant pile of unsustainable debt from the leveraged buyout and often sending it into bankruptcy.”

OverDrive likely plans to sell user data then bleed the public libraries dry until local and federal governments shout, “Uncle!” Among book bans and rising inflation, public libraries will see a reckoning with their budgets before 2030.

Whitney Grace, August 25, 2023


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