Now that we’ve all explored how the Annoyed Librarian has managed to make a mockery of the extremely important institution known as the peer-reviewed journal, let’s move on to other targets.
I often notice in the comments section what I assume are the business librarians amongst us making the oft heard complaint that libraries are not run more like businesses, usually followed by the prediction that if libraries don’t become more like businesses, they will become extinct!
So if libraries were run more like businesses, what would we see happening?
AT WILL EMPLOYMENT
This is always a good one. I realize a lot of librarians have at-will employment right now, but plenty others have the protections of civil service contracts, unionization, tenure, etc. However, if we got rid of all those selfish employment protections, then libraries could just fire all of their librarians whenever they experienced a "circulation downturn" and then hire them back when the libraries were doing more business, probably as consultants so the librarians could do the exact same job as before, only at twice the pay with no benefits. That seems like a winning strategy.
Funny all those businessy librarians never talk about bonuses, but when it comes to this part of acting like a business, I’m all for it! Obviously it would require some thought about the proper method used to allocate bonuses, but as in businesses they’d be tied to performance in some way. Would it be the performance of the whole library? Thus, if the overall statistics of use or whatever were higher than the previous year, would everyone get a bonus? Or perhaps it should be more individual. Reference librarians could get bonuses for exceeding their quota of questions answered, and cataloggers for exceeding their quota of items cataloged. This might create some perverse incentives, inasmuch as reference librarians would undoubtedly let quantity of answers become more important than quality, but then again that’s just how businesses do it, which is why sales people are happy to sell you shoddy products or services you don’t need as long as they make their numbers. Come to think of it, this is probably how most reference librarians do it already, so why not get paid more for it.
Tips are like bonuses for hourly workers. All those salaried librarians should expect bonuses, but all the hourly wage workers should expect tips, as is often the case with service workers. We could put up tip jars at the circulation and reference desks. Perhaps after fulfulling a particularly difficult information need, librarians could hold out their hand while looking off into the distance and coughing expectantly.
ADVERTISING AND MARKETING
Some librarians just love this kind of thing. Libraries could create entire advertising and marketing departments staffed with people who do absolutely nothing useful within the organization but who like to tell lies while enjoying large expense accounts – just like real businesses! It takes money to make money, as they say, and you need a whole army of marketeers to discover that people want to check out books and videos and CDs and such at their library, and another army of advertisers to let the people know libraries have this stuff. These would probably be the most attractive jobs in libraries, because no one in them would have to do any actual library work. They could just go to marketing seminars and have expensive lunches.
THREE MARTINI LUNCHES
Speaking of expensive lunches, you didn’t think I’d leave this one out, did you? I know they’re not as popular since the late seventies when that teetotaling peanut farmer in the White House criticized three martini lunches and thus caused a temporary decline in the popularity of the drink H.L. Mencken considered America’s only creation as perfect as a sonnet. But I think it’s time to bring them back to businesses, libraries, and the world! You can all enjoy the same warm glow I feel every afternoon after sampling Chip’s mixological magic with my LJ-catered luncheon.
As we see around us, what the real businesses are doing these days is turning to the government for money. Iinvestment banks, mortgage lendors, now even auto manufacturers are smacking their lips in anticipation of plunging their laissez-faire, underregulated snouts as deeply into the public trough as they can. Money from the government. Protecting American jobs that don’t seem justified from a free market perspective. Saving American industries that are supposedly "too big to fail." Looks like these businesses are starting to learn from libraries. And if anything is "too big to fail," it’s the American library! Which would be worse for America? The demise of GM or the demise of American libraries? With the right New New Deal, those unemployed auto workers can get jobs working in libraries, perhaps repairing bookmobiles. If GM doesn’t run itself at the public expense like the library, it might become extinct!
Librarians should indeed start taking lessons from "business." We should start giving ourselves large bonuses and much higher salaries. We should stop trying to provide a decent and worthwhile public service and instead think only of our well being and profit. Then, when this doesn’t work out, we go to the Congress and claim libraries are just too big to fail, and we need $700 billion for them to stay in operation. Right now we’ve been doing it completely the wrong way. Libraries have been trying to provide worthwhile public services on a shoestring. This is not how businesses operate. It’s time we learned our lesson.