According to the Global Library Statistics the United States consists of 3793 academic libraries with more than 7 million users. They are visiting their university library like other people the postal service. That means, the users love the library-industrial complex, profit from it and stay there quite often. Most (perhaps all) of the libraries are organized as a non-profit charity organization, that means, the taxpayer is paying the loan of the librarians, the energy costs, the rental fee and the acquisition of new handbooks, journals and CD-Roms, while the students who are reading the information are paying nothing.

Most of the students who are visiting a university library are rich. But they are paying no fee if they are sitting with their notebook in the library and get access to the WLAN connection for browsing in the online-repository. They don't pay a single cent, if they are reading a printed book or if they borrow something. On the other hand, all the libraries are producing large amount of costs. The rooms are provided for masses, the books have to be bought, and the academic journals are subscribed for a special fee. How can it be, that such a large and important business isn't organized as a private company, but is seen as a governmental obligation? Wouldn't it be more efficient, if a capitalistic approach for book lending and local internet-access in the academic library would be used?

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    "the students who are reading the information are paying nothing," except hefty tuition fees!
    – user2768
    Feb 7, 2019 at 9:16
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    "Wouldn't it be more efficient, if a capitalistic approach for book lending and local internet-access in the academic library would be used?": Wouldn't that be a very sad world? Feb 7, 2019 at 9:20
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    Which university libraries are "non-profit charity organizations"?
    – Solar Mike
    Feb 7, 2019 at 9:28
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    "Most of the students who are visiting a university library are rich"? Since when are student commonly rich? Feb 7, 2019 at 9:42
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    If you need an answer that chimes with your obvious ideological predisposition, consider library services as merit goods; when supplied, they create positive externalities.
    – henning
    Feb 7, 2019 at 12:23

2 Answers 2


Anonymous Physicist's answer raises some good points, but I think the main problem with "a capitalistic approach for book lending" is that it'd incentivize the libraries to mostly stock very cheap and popular books, that they can lend repeatedly. Yet the two primary uses I see in academic libraries are precisely the opposite - making expensive or rare books available to poor students (they're usually not rich!), and providing access to specialized books and research journals. By their very nature these don't exactly have a broad audience. Having such materials somewhere is useful to researchers, students, and the public. Hence the library is usually funded as overhead in universities.

  • Grocery stores have a capitalistic approach to food. They no longer stock only cheap and popular food. Instead, they try to cover every niche food. Feb 8, 2019 at 7:16
  • @AnonymousPhysicist Well, there's certainly regional foods I can't find anywhere nearby, yet all stores seem to sell Coke... A bookstore might be a fairer comparison, since they don't have to worry about perishing goods. Shelf and alternative costs are certainly a factor there. You're right that the word 'only' is too strong though. I'll change it.
    – Anyon
    Feb 8, 2019 at 12:07

Many academic libraries have access control. They do not let people enter without permission. Some resources are granted free to everyone who requests permission, others are limited to paying students and staff.

Very few people who are not students or staff make use of the resources at academic libraries that are available for free. Collecting payment from those people would not be cost effective when the resources are already available for purchase from the publisher.

Universities often receive subsidies from governments. Offering free resources to the public is one way of indicating to the public they are getting value for their tax money.

Also, capitalism is not always efficient.

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    On "capitalism is not always efficient": It's not even always effective. Reliance on capitalism in the area of science is a bad idea, since it generally tends to lead to neglect of research with no apparent practical use (which could be converted into profit).
    – Nox
    Feb 7, 2019 at 10:11
  • “Universities often receive subsidies from governments“: That's correct. I've analyzed the annual report from New York state university (SUNY) and they are financed only with 15% by tuition and fees from students. The rest comes from taxpayer's money. That means, the government is paying most of bills. Feb 7, 2019 at 13:09

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