In a turn that conjures scenes from Seinfeld with officer Bookman, library cop, the Wisconsin state Assembly passed a bill that allows libraries to call the police on people who have late fees. The bill passed the WI assembly on Tuesday February 16 and it passed the senate last week. It now goes to the desk of Scott Walker to be signed.
Public libraries are a service that are paid for by everyone in society and a service that is meant for everyone in society. In a way, the dissemination of books among the public is exactly what the purpose of the library is.
Libraries are disproportionately used by women overall and disproportionately by Black folks and Hispanics for internet usage¹. This bill will disproportionately impact Wisconsin’s homeless, women, as well as Hispanic and Black residents.
The involvement of the police in library operation is an overreach and it is a recipe for disaster. As the Black Lives Matter movement has made clear over the last year, interacting with the police can lead to fatal conclusions, even more so when the interaction is between police and Black males, transgender and people with mental disabilities. Using the state apparatus that has the legal right to use force and to escalate situations quickly to collect on fines from somebody who is trying to better themselves but does not have the resources to buy all the books they need themselves, is a policy that is shortsighted and ignorant of the violent and repressive role that police play in this society.
Besides from being disastrously dangerous for the citizens of Wisconsin, this bill will put even more obstacles in the way of citizens who use the library’s book and internet services to better themselves, find jobs and make money on the internet. It will serve to further the income gap in WI, disproportionately among Blacks and Hispanics.
This attack on public services should be seen as part of the neo-liberal agenda of the Scott Walker government. This is yet another maneuver to put the burden of the financial crisis, that Walker has failed to address, on the backs of the homeless, poor, women, Hispanics and Black Wisconsinites. Although this would arguably do little to alleviate government spending and might even cost more than it saves, it is indicative of the neo-liberal ideology of austerity for the people and a nanny like relationship between the state and corporations.
If Wisconsinites are having trouble returning library materials then why punish them? What is so bad about a government, that we pay for, buying books for its citizens? If folks are in a position that they can’t return library materials, then the issue is not lack of punitive measures but lack of public infrastructure, we need better public transportation and a rail system that runs often and is cheap or free.
If people are truly stealing library material, the solution is to address the reason that they feel they need to steal books in the first place. If a Wisconsinite is in a position that they need to steal books to survive then the answer is not more punitive measures, it is an income inequality issue.
If libraries are strapped for cash and materials so bad that they need to use the police to collect, then the real solution is to give them more money. We need more social services, not more police!
1.) “Libraries at the Crossroads”, Chapter 1: Who Uses Libraries and What They do at Their Libraries. http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/09/15/who-uses-libraries-and-what-they-do-at-their-libraries/