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Why are Texas’ Public Libraries Competing with Redbox and Blockbuster?

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The Reason Foundation’s Leonard Gilroy recently held up Leonard Martin, the city manager of Carrollton, TX for his privatization efforts which included, of all things, getting the city’s public library out of the business of loaning new movies.

From the article:

We had a library that was across the street from a Blockbuster Video, and I found out that we were loaning out first-run movies. You could come borrow “Die Hard” from our library free of charge, and we even had a drive up window. You could call ahead and reserve “Die Hard” and have them meet you at the window. Across the street was poor old Blockbuster, who’s trying to convince me to go pay $3.50 to rent “Die Hard,” and then they’d charge me a sales tax that will go over to the library to buy more copies of “Die Hard” so the library could put them out of business. The council decided that we don’t need to be in the business of loaning out first-run movies. We’re in the educational business, so therefore we divested ourselves of our inventory of first run movies and got out of that stupid racket, and closed the drive through window service. That was obscene.

Martin clearly deserves praise here for getting government out of the business of competing with Blockbuster and the like, but his efforts also got us thinking: Are public libraries competing with private movie rental enterprises in other cities, or is this an isolated incident? As it turns out, it’s the former.

Major public libraries in cities like Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio all have extensive movie collections that include such features as: 21 Jump Street, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Ides of March, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and more. And of course, many of the locations where these new titles are available are within a stone’s throw of the nearest Redbox or Blockbuster.

Public libraries have no business competing with the private sector in this area. It not only robs the private sector of a productive business opportunity, but it’s also far outside the scope of most people’s vision of government.

By shedding more light on this practice, we hope to encourage public sector officials around the state to follow Carrollton’s lead of cutting costs.