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Maine Seeks to Opt Out of GATS Library Agreement

Maine Seeks to Opt Out of GATS Library Agreement

According to a recent post on American Libraries, the state of Maine has petitioned the Bush administration to have the state excluded from the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) Library Agreement that is currently being negotiated in Geneva, Switzerland. Maine Governor John Baldacci wrote, “Libraries are important sites of free and democratic exchange of information. For this reason few developed countries have committed libraries to the terms of the GATS. By committing libraries to the GATS and not specifically exempting public funding from GATS rules, we compromise the support that taxpayers give to ensure that public libraries continue to serve as valuable democratic spaces. Please carve Maine out of the libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural services sector.”

Public Citizen notes that “the U.S. has never specified that public funds for libraries are limited to public institutions only and, ‘since aspects of these services are provided in competition with other service providers,’they may be subject to claims of unfair competition by the commercial sector.” What exactly does that mean? Well, libraries could be sued for offering videotapes and dvds, and even ostensibly for loaning materials since all of those services could be viewed as unfair competition.

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1 Comment

  1. Good on you for posting this. I just wanted to clarify one thing: libraries aren’t very likely to be sued for offering videotapes and dvds and doign their usual lending activities – more likely for charging fees for service as many of them are starting to do, particularly for business information. Charging for this kind of stuff presents a risk from database corporations which, as you probably know, are in some cases extremely powerful. Similarly, children’s play franchises might have a case if chidrens’ storyhours charge for attendance. A couple of Canadian provinces (Alberta and Quebec) allow libraries to charge annual membership fees for service, and that presents way more of a trade risk than a library that just goes on doing what it usually does.

    The sheer ridiculousness of threatening libraries with trade agreements and having to make them more “competitive” (while at the same time telling them to be careful about not overlapping with private services) is a tad overwhelming. So that’s why Maine’s move is such an important one, I think: it shows how much popular support there is for libraries and puts the defensive ball in the feds’ court.So it’ll be interesting to watch what comes of this. Cheers!

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