Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay. In the modern state there are very few sites where this is possible. The only others that come readily to my mind require belief in an omnipotent creator as a condition for membership. It would seem the most obvious thing in the world to say that the reason why the market is not an efficient solution to libraries is because the market has no use for a library. But it seems we need, right now, to keep re-stating the obvious. There aren't many institutions left that fit so precisely Keynes' definition of things that no one else but the state is willing to take on. Nor can the experience of library life be recreated online. It's not just a matter of free books. A library is a different kind of social reality (of the three dimensional kind), which by its very existence teaches a system of values beyond the fiscal.
Zadie Smith, in the New York Review of Books.
I wish the library profession would get this and stop thinking of itself in terms of Neoliberal categories and measures. Every time I heard references to customers or ROI in my classes, I wanted to spit. I know, I know, survival strategies, but what's survival if it means destroying what's best and most vital about yourself? It's the same kind of folly as newspapers responding to their own crisis by degrading the quality of their core mission of newsgathering. And as their example shows, its not even a particularly good survival strategy in the medium to long term.