As reported right here in the Library Journal (boy, that sounds strange to me), the Philadelphia library system will be closing 11 of 54 branches and fire 111 people (or rather "111 positions will be lost"). I didn’t actually read about it in the Library Journal, because I seldom read LJ, but one of my commenters last week mentioned it, and I followed up. That’s the sort of library journalist I am.
That’s a lot of closings, and I wanted to know what was really going on. Sure, the mayor claimed it had something to do with a recession, but that might just be a nutty idea. Other cities are having recessions and they’re not closing up so many libraries, so I suspected a conspiracy against libraries here. Because it’s my duty as an impartial library journalist to bring the truth to light for the delectation of the huddled librarian masses yearning to breathe free – i.e., you – I covered up my superhero outfit with a tasteful business suit, donned some glasses to complete the disguise, and set off to Philly in search of the mayor. Then I realized with modern communication technology being what it is, I didn’t actually have to go to Philadelphia and just called instead. The transcript is below:
AL: I’m trying to find out the real reason why you’re closing all these libraries. I just don’t buy that "recession" argument. It sounds nutty to me.
Mayor: [groan.] Very funny. I’ve never heard that one before. We absolutely had to close something. There’s no money! And some libraries aren’t doing well.
AL: Why did you choose these particular branches? I bet you’re not closing the library that you use.
Mayor: But I use the main branch downtown!
AL: Isn’t "main branch" an oxymoron?
Mayor: I wouldn’t know about that. I’m not a librarian. We used several criteria to decide which branches to close. We closed the ones that weren’t doing what libraries should be doing.
AL: What? Like providing books and access to information and maybe some storytimes?
Mayor: No, the libraries were all doing that. But do you know how many of those libraries had a blog where the director gave the community the inside scoop on all the tedious activities necessary to run a library?
AL: I can make a guess: none.
Mayor: That’s a good guess. You’re exactly right. How many of the librarians there were using Twitter to communicate their every movement – bowel and otherwise – to the ever curious public?
Mayor: None! But how many of them do you think had little signs up asking people to silence their cellphones?
AL: I give up.
Mayor: All of them! You can see what a heartless disservice these libraries were doing to their customers. The folks in these libraries hate their customers. It’s obvious. The "signs" are all there, so to speak. [chuckling in background.]
AL: You’re a fan of that blog where the guy’s always posting photos of cell phone signs and himself and everything, aren’t you?
Mayor: I love that guy!
AL: I thought so.
Mayor: How many of those libraries were run like businesses, do you think? None!
AL: But are the other ones run like businesses? What does that even mean?
Mayor: You’re distracting me. I’m on a roll. A few more things you might be interested in. Nobody at those libraries was teaching old people how to upload videos onto Youtube.
AL: The horror!
Mayor: But that’s not the worst of it. The libraries weren’t offering anything their customers really wanted.
AL: So none of their "customers" wanted books and stuff?
Mayor: I have no idea. I just know that if libraries are going to survive in the perilous future, they’re going to need to adapt to the changing needs of the culture.
AL: That sounds like a lot of empty verbiage to me. What does it mean in practice?
Mayor: They need more video games! I toured all those branches myself.
AL: Were they busy?
Mayor: Sure, they were busy, but absolutely no one was playing Guitar Hero, and I found meeting room after meeting room without a jubilant game of Dance Dance Revolution going on!
AL: Do you actually know what Dance Dance Revolution is?
Mayor: I have no idea, but I’ve been assured by top library bloggers that these things are important.
AL: Who specifically?
AL: You mean, like the Annoyed Librarian?
Mayor: No, I’ve been told not to read that one.
AL: Just curious. Thank you very much for your time.
Mayor: You’re welcome. Say, you couldn’t spare a few bucks, could you?
At that point I ended the call. What could I make of that? It seemed like the twopointopians and the gamey librarians were right after all. Libraries that don’t have blogs and DDR parties are doomed to distinction. It’s sad to think that if these branches had just followed the advice of "top library bloggers," they wouldn’t be closing. I stand corrected. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll call the mayor of San Diego.