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We Don’t Need No Education

It’s not a good time to be in the education business, which to some extent most librarians are. The subjects librarians teach may vary, from "information literacy" to "Hulu," but being in the information business also means being in the education business.

The education business is floundering. Public libraries are closing or cutting back hours and services. Public schools are getting rid of their school librarians and whatever remains of art, music, or languages they once had. Outside of rich suburbs, public schools themselves seem in decline. Rich private universities are firing people left and right. Public universities seem doomed, with the best of them, the Michigans and the Berkeleys, becoming more like privates than publics.

The immediate reason is obvious: funding cuts. Because of the recession and the decline in tax revenue, states and communities have less money to spend, and they’re cutting back on inessentials like education. For those who follow these things, the latest recessionary cuts are just a harsher example of a long trend.

A lot of librarians like to keep up with trends, but not the painful ones. States have been cutting or freezing education budgets for a long time, and state financing of public education has declined as a percentage of public university budgets almost everywhere. Thus, they have to raise tuition to keep going.

This creates a vicious circle of its own. Universities raise tuition, which means the lower classes are excluded as only middle or upper-middle and above can afford a college education. When universities start getting expensive, parents and students want more for their money than books, classrooms, and computers. Thus we get expensive athletic centers and fancier cafeterias and dormitories. Offering undergraduates a spa experience drives up costs even further.

All this means it’s also a bad time to need an education, especially if you can’t afford an an extra $20-50,000 a year for college and your community won’t fund a decent library.

It’s especially ironic because we hear from politicians – sometimes the same politicians who cut education budgets – that America needs a highly educated workforce to compete globally in the next century. I’m not exactly sure what it would mean to "compete globally," but that’s the sort of verbiage they use. Right now we’re competing globally by enticing engineers and scientists from other countries to settle in the United States and enjoy our rich cultural heritage of reality TV and Wal-Mart.

One can only come to the conclusion that Americans really don’t want education, at least not for the majority. Education isn’t considered a public good. I guess if roads and bridges aren’t public goods, then education isn’t likely to be. Infrastructure, apparently, is a dirty word, whether physical or intellectual. The last bridge and the last public library might collapse at the same moment.

Come now, you might say! Of course we consider education a public good. We have public schools and public universities and public libraries! But slapping the name "public" on something without funding it adequately doesn’t really count. According to the Supreme Court, money is speech, and states and communities have spoken very clearly about their commitment to education as a public good.

And what can librarians do about it? Probably nothing at all, because those of us in education are the least American of all. We don’t sacrifice everything for profits. We help people without expecting tips. We don’t hustle people, or at least most of us don’t. We don’t scourge the poor.  We believe there are values beyond the bottom line and actually live by those values. What could be more unAmerican than that?

It seems unlikely that Americans in general will listen to the concerns of people so obviously out of tune with American society, especially when the concerns expressed my so many are so trivial.

The twopointopians and oneohonions who dominate the librarian public sphere rarely address serious issues or branch out beyond the world of shiny new toys to consider the fundamental issue. They want to get people into libraries, but that’s not the problem; they just think it’s the problem.

People are coming to libraries. More than ever, if you believe the ALA. (I know, I know.) They’re coming to look for jobs and get Internet access and books and DVDs and newspapers they can no longer afford. Those services might turn out to be more relevant than shiny toys.

People might also come to the library to use shiny tools as well as the books and DVDs, but shiny tools won’t save a library without funding. I’m hoping ALA lobbying will have more success if it looks like they’re trying to bolster public libraries rather support Internet porn for children.

The commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty. That’s all the people, or at least all of them who can meet the challange. Libraries are a part of the public education system, and their future is tied to the success of that system, not Twitter.

On the bright side, if the public education system collapses, it’s not like everyone in America will be worse off. To paraphrase Jesus, the rich we will always have with us. Or maybe none of us will be worse off, and it’s just that the meds aren’t working or I had too much chocolate on Valentine’s Day and I’m feeling gloomy, so I’ll end on an American note.

Have a nice day!

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Comments

  1. **sigh** says:

    Thank you Captain AL Obvious.

    When are you going to stop being part of the negative problem and offer up some meaningful solutions?

    Just wondering.

  2. Bruce Campbell says:

    Where can I send my money and old back issues of Natl Geographic so that I can change things? What senator is pushing for this? What’s a good website to learn more about the dire straits of education and how I can help? I need answers.

  3. nobodyneedstoknowmyname says:

    But they did provide some suggestions, if you dig deep enough and apply critical thinking to this article. They are saying PROVE your worth to get your funding. Libraries/Universities/Etc. have to PROVE their worth to the politicians that control the purse strings. Forget shiny toys, forget the hype, forget the stupidity that is running rampant in the library sector and focus on the things that are drawing patrons into the facility, learn how to market those things so more people will come, and then PROVE to the purse holders how those programs, resources, etc. are beneficial and a necessity. That might mean NOT putting on some grandiose show for the rest of the adoring library world, but it will keep the library doors open and the library employees still employed.

    And if you want some solutions:

    1.) Run statistics on the usage of computers, computer programs, the most used websites, the most frequently used reference resources, circulating materials, and of course, the number of people who enter the building etc. And these should be REAL statistics not some pencil marks that the pages do because the librarians are too busy playing on the computer.

    2.) Conduct surveys of the library users. Find out what they want, what they need, what they use and what they do not use.

    3.) Get rid of the stuff that is NOT being use. It isn’t easy but you have to sometimes get rid of materials.

    4.) Once you have your informational research and you have evidence of ridding yourself of financially drawing material, resources and/or programs, then approach the people who give you money.

    These might sound cliche or out-of-fashion, but right now, we have to prove our worth to the public and the money providers. Because libraries are providing services but librarians are doing a pretty poor job of showing how they are providing those services.

    But my cynical and pessimistic side knows that no matter how we prove our worth, we will continue to get the short end of the financial stick. Which is why I am getting out of this profession before I am stuck with massive amounts of debt from my “wonderful” education in library school for the next fifty years. (Yeah, yeah…I was an idiot)

  4. Bruce Campbell says:

    Which is why I am getting out of this profession before I am stuck with massive amounts of debt from my “wonderful” education in library school for the next fifty years. (Yeah, yeah…I was an idiot)

    Where’d you go to school? One of the Spa places AL mentioned.

    Good points about what libraries can do. I think all of this statistics gathering should be mandatory for any library receiving federal funding. It seems fairly obvious to collect these figures so you can continue to make your case for existence. Transparency.

    What profession are you going into?

  5. AFL-CIO says:

    “Get rid of the stuff that is NOT being use.”

    We tried, but the union said we had to keep the people who have been here the longest because it was fair.

    I will go into the back room and wake them and let them know they are good until retirement.

  6. nobodyneedstoknowmyname says:

    It wasn’t a “spa place” necessarily. It was a large state school here in the South.

    As far as what profession I am going into now…well, I really don’t know. It would be nice if I could utilize my library degree in some way. My optimistic and idealistic nature would love to look over all of the pitfalls and tribulations in the library profession and continue working in the field. But I just want to work in a profession that can utilize my researching, information organization skills, and customer service skills. Whatever profession that provides that and who will give me health insurance, I’ll get into that profession.

    I shouldn’t be pessimistic and try to tough out in this profession. But I really don’t want to worry about declaring bankruptcy because I cannot find an adequately paying job.

  7. Bruce Campbell says:

    Here, here. Get rid of the dinosaur employees that still have questions about using flash drives.

    Go knit, Dinosaurs!

  8. AFL-CIO says:

    “Here, here. Get rid of the dinosaur employees that still have questions about using flash drives.”

    Good luck with that. People with talent and drive are the first cut. The do nothing cousins of the mayor hang on and on. Think about cutting them and Vinny shows up and lets you know what is what.

    Say “ha ha” but in big city libraries this is the way things work.

    Cutting books is easy. Just make sure you have multiple copies of the latest thrillers and romances. You can get rid of all those reference books that never garner any circulation statistics.

  9. nobodyneedstoknowmyname says:

    The comment about the employees that are of no use made me laugh really loud!!!! Probably because it is SO true. But AFL-CIO is also correct. I work (very) part-time as a librarian assistant in a huge cooperative library system in the downtown area and that is a huge issue. But politics will be politics wherever you go. Oy-vey.

  10. Polk says:

    Good god, AL, you sound like a progressive! Good for you! p.s. – foundering, not floundering

  11. NotMariantheLibrarian says:

    Anti-intellectualism is part and parcel of this country’s identity. We hear all about the good education brings people but, when it gets right down to it, most folks don’t like pointy-headed intellectuals or people who have some smarts. Haven’t you noticed how many idiots are elected to local, state and federal positions? Those elected officials who do have some smarts are derided constantly.

    Sad fact – our students are getting bachelor’s degrees so they can work in call centers. Or “fall back” on teaching in the public school system thus compounding the problems in our educational system.

  12. Mary says:

    The best funding mechanism for public libraries is to have a dedicated piece of the property taxes. My local library is funded this way and is open 7 days a week, until 9 pm four nights a week. The place is packed whenever I visit. If the funding has to be appropriated, either by a local municipality or the state or both, libraries will always be the first thing cut.

    Andrew Carnegie required municipalities to commit to adequate long-term funding before he would give money to build a library. Friends of the library groups should work to get their local library a mil or two of the property taxes, so that it can’t be cut every time there is a recession

  13. Harry says:

    Property tax is the way to go. That way, if a community does not like the way the library is being run, they can cut off the gravy train.

    It makes the library be more of a community place rather than just another Barnes and Nobles with a Seattle’s Best attached.

  14. RadicalPatron says:

    I agree about the twopointopians – in libraries and everywhere else. Today I covered a publishing post on the same phenomenon in science. It’s called “Web2.0 and Talking versus Doing”. (www.radicalpatron.com/web20-talking-versus-doing/)

    If a oneohonion represents libraries doing the same old thing the same old way, then I agree there too. I’m a pretty radical patron and use two public libraries regularly; one in a town of 7,500 and the other in a city outside Boston. Sadly, my personal use is declining because as more options for information and entertainment become available, libraries just don’t have the type of services I want or need. I’ve tried to get new ideas into my local library and it’s not happening, and I’m burnt out on trying.

    On funding – I can’t afford to spend any more on libraries (or much else). I’m probably better off than millions of other Americans and yet times are tight for me right now. Same is true for most everyone I know. Moreover, I’m convinced the way we fund our public libraries needs to change. It has worked for over a hundred years (which is kind of remarkable), though I’d argue it is not serving us well these days. IMLS published a report six months ago with public library stats for 2007. The US had 9,214 public libraries and a total of 16,604 outlets including branches. They employed 145,000 people full-time and had operating revenue of $11 billion. Summary data from the report is here(tinyurl.com/ydqarm2).

    That’s alot of resources circulating through the system and I believe we could have much more vibrant libaries, a more engaged public and more fulfilled library staff if we conceived of ways to manage the investment differently. I’ve offered some ideas here inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2009/an-inflection-point-for-american-public-libraries/).

  15. Hydroxl Patron says:

    “Sadly, my personal use is declining because as more options for information and entertainment become available, libraries just don’t have the type of services I want or need. I’ve tried to get new ideas into my local library and it’s not happening, and I’m burnt out on trying.”

    That is because the libraries are being run by professionals who know so much more than you do. That MLS isn’t just some gimcrack degree that they got in a box of Cocoa Pebbles. Nope. They had to eat a ton of Good for You Granola and Fiber to save up enough box tops for that degree.

    They know what you need, not what you want.

    And when you drive by the day they are sitting out in the street amongst their library trappings, freshly tossed out by the board, you can laugh and laugh.

  16. NotMariantheLibrarian says:

    If only library boards actually knew what libraries did, what services are offered, etc. They tend to be kinda worthless … because the positions are a little plum offered to lackeys of our city council members. They know nothing and do nothing but get in the way in this city. I spit in their general direction …

  17. library guy says:

    Radical Patron -

    You can’t afford to spend any more on libraries, which I believe is true, but despite that you’ll still expect all the bells and whistles you’ve always had previously. You want to pay less/the same and get more. Which is the same with education – nobody wants to pay more in taxes for public education, but the expectation is that instructors will still provide the same quality education as before.

    You can’t always do more with less, and it’s often a struggle to simply do the same as before with less.

    The challenge with buying into new ideas – as you’ve proposed in your libraries – is that adding new ideas is fine, except you have to keep all the same old ideas also. The public wants more, and more, and more – for less. We have patrons who still read us the riot act because we don’t have microfiche. Where does it end? The answer is – it doesn’t. A hundred years from now it will be the same argument – libraries (whatever form they become) are unresponsive to new ideas and change; we can do more with less; librarians don’t care. The public wouldn’t be satisfied if libraries gave out free meals, rides to the mall, and trips to Disney World.

    Ultimately, at the end of the day I’ll head home where I’m always appreciated, have dinner with my wife and children, relax in my livingroom, and come back tomorrow and give it all I have for another day.

  18. library gay says:

    In a hundred years, libraries will cease to exist.

    People don’t care about libraries, libraries are a source. A vessel.

    If they can get entertained, informed, etc somewhere else easier and cheaper, guess what?

  19. Anon says:

    I just look at the neighborhood I live in – EXPENSIVE (too expensive for a librarian’s salary to buy a house in, I rent) and yet the neighborhood high school is an old building surrounded by trailers. I don’t think you get to call them “temporary buildings” anymore, once they’ve been there over a decade. The people living here wouldn’t think of buying a so much as a pair of shoes from a business that was in a structure as run down as that, but they’ll send their kids there all day for years without so much as batting an eye. I’m sure kids can take a look around, see how crappy their school is, and quickly figure out (even if only subconsciously) how much value is placed on them by the society they live in. The only thing this country cares about is TAX CUTS.

  20. RadicalPatron says:

    Library Guy: Hi, your thoughts may represent some members of the public, but not me. What I am saying is that the old bells and whistles aren’t as attractive to me as new options for information and entertainment become available. I know my libraries cannot deliver more services under existing conditions, and I don’t expect it.

    I’m also saying there are lots of fresh ways to look at the challenges facing our public libraries that don’t disparage the people who work there, or the impact they have on the lives of millions of people every day. These ideas don’t cost more money, either. They involve, IMHO, viewing our library system as a national resource and finding ways to shore it up without robbing individual libraries of the automomy that has made them unique, authentic community resources and national treasures. I’ve put lots of specific ideas out there,in fact, at radicalpatron.com.

    Lastly, I can’t make as many financial donations to my local library as I could when times were better – though I’m still shelving lots of materials and doing data entry and folding newsletters and working the book sales …

  21. Hydroxyl Patron says:

    “though I’m still shelving lots of materials and doing data entry and folding newsletters and working the book sales … ”

    By supporting these outdated programs and procedures, you are part of the problem.

    You want change? Since you don’t mind volunteering, go and volunteer to get things you want!

    Stop feeding the problem.

  22. library guy says:

    Radical Patron –

    Don’t listen to Hydroxyl – a volunteer who cares about libraries and seems as spirited as you do is never the problem. Never. Stay with it.

    I hear what you’re saying. And in theory agree with most of your thoughts.

    Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

    Library Gay? -

    Information and entertainment easier and quicker? Maybe. Cheaper? Not. I’m not going to argue the details, but since 2004 my library budget has increased only 1.94-percent for city residents in Wisconsin, and actually the total budget has dropped in that time, and yet the past three years the circulations have been at record levels. Libraries might not look like they do now in a hundred years, and they may be funded differently, but there will be libraries.

    Anyhow – lighten up. Neither of us will be around to know which one of us is correct. :)

  23. LIS degrees are a joke says:

    Welcome to the Obama administration Comrades. It’s only going to get worse–and spare me your Bush, Cheney, Rush, and Palin cards.

  24. MLIS Degree says:

    Librarians love socialism.

    Buy books? No, no, no. We will buy one copy for the community to share.

    Want a computer? The city has one here you can share.

    Want a warm place to house the homeless during the day? We have plenty of tables and chairs.

    Need free, community child care? Drop the rug rats off so they can play DDR all afternoon.

    Socialism lives!

  25. Hydroxyl Patron says:

    “Don’t listen to Hydroxyl – a volunteer who cares about libraries and seems as spirited as you do is never the problem. Never. Stay with it. ”

    Absolutely.

    Volunteer and do all the things that they ask you to do to support the programs THEY want.

    After all, you are just a volunteer and patron. You are not amongst the anointed MLS gods. They know what is best for you and how best to spend the money.

  26. N5335 says:

    I’m warning you, if you say Hulu one more time …

  27. NCC1701 says:

    How about Sulu?

  28. HPP6f says:

    Hulu Hulu Hulu HULU hey what happens if I mention it as part of a Hawaiian culture project is that ok?

  29. John says:

    “The commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty.”

    So, in order to safeguard that liberty, we must tax people, that is, take money from them without their consent?

    How does that work?

  30. Sam Adams says:

    Liberty is not free.

  31. Talulah says:

    Hmmm, my PL is a district library. The residents of the district had to vote to create it, vote to fund it, and vote to elect their board. They also voted to build a new building, and vote to increase the funding. How is it taxation without the consent of the people, if the people are the ones who chose to assess the tax?

  32. Bankhead says:

    So long as they don’t take any federal funds.

    If they take any federal money, then I get a say in how it is run.

    If not, then it is taxation without representation.

  33. N5335 says:

    O.K. Don’t day I didn’t warn you.

  34. Wham-O says:

    What if I want to catalog a book about hulu-hoops?

  35. Pink Floyd says:

    I am sorry.

    Your headline should read, “We do not need any education.”

    Please change it.

    Thank you.

  36. H7f6d says:

    It should read “Education don’t make me no nevermind no how.”

  37. TheCommonGood says:

    Hey John – get off my roads then. Taxpayer dollars built them. While you’re at it, why don’t you move to another country? Our tax dollars support our military men and women, people I’m proud to work with every day. Remember what they do? They’re worth 10 of all you “don’t tax me” whiners.

  38. John says:

    Talulah, if “the people” really are consenting, then don’t tax them. If it is truly a voluntary system, then the library can be supported by a donation box at the front door.

    Or, alternatively, if a person chooses not to use the public library can s/he get a tax refund for his/her share of revenues used to support the library? If not, then s/he’s not actually consenting.

    Right?

  39. Jane says:

    Amen John. We need to put in collection boxes to fund our libraries.

    After that, we can privatize every road and put up toll booths to fund them.

    Want a cop, pay a fee and call ADT.

    House on fire, boy I hope you made a payment to the volunteers this month. They will be checking before they roll.

    Unhappy with current world events? Contact Blackwater and have their operatives hit the beaches.

    Schools? I hear that the Catholic church has a good program or you could home school.

    Snow? My kid needs a job, you could hire him to shovel a path for you.

    We need more foreward thinkers like you in this world.

    God Bless You!

  40. John says:

    Thanks, Jane! I’m glad to see that I’m not alone in my point of view in AL’s threads.

  41. Jane says:

    My place or yours.

    For procreation.

    We need to conquer the world.

  42. Hippieman says:

    Socialism is the only answer. Capitalism has failed us. The evil corporatists have taken everything.

  43. Hippie Diddy Library Man says:

    “Socialism is the only answer. Capitalism has failed us. The evil corporatists have taken everything.”

    Amen.

    Hey, do you have a job or have a source of money or a place to sleep. Please let me know what you have so I can come over and share it.

    I live on the street and use the public library to access the internet. I could really use a shower, a place to crash for a few years, and food. Lots of food. I am hungry.

    Post your address so I can come over.

    Thank you, brother.

  44. LIS degrees are a joke says:

    To Hippie Diddy:

    LMAO! Let’s see if Hippieman is so humanitarian that he will spread his wealth for you.

  45. Hippie Dibby Library Man says:

    C’mon LIS.

    All good socialists have a heart of gold.

    He can do his part to help society and so will I.

    Mostly all I can contribute are anonymous posts to the Internets and flatulence, but one does what one can.

  46. Hippieman says:

    Why are so many Christians so right wing? Didn’t Jesus say give up everything (including filthy sucre) to “follow me.” I mean, the entire Republican Party ought to follow his advice.

  47. Hippieman says:

    Meant “lucre.”

  48. LIS degrees are a joke says:

    I am not a Christian or a Repub. I am a conservative independant. Besides, when Jesus says to give it up for him, it is to follow him personally, not by his example. Context.

  49. librarygirl says:

    In Public Libraries many if not all the important decisions are made by a library board. What experience do the board members have to have? Many of our board members don’t even use the library services? Who will be our advocate?

  50. Corporate Boardman says:

    Library boards are like all corporate boards. The members are far removed from the shareholders and make decisions that benefit the board and not the shareholders.

    We need a revolution now.

    Don’t vote for Democrats.

    Don’t vote for Republicans.

    Don’t even for for Independents.

    Burn the government to the ground.

  51. Hippie Dibby Library Man says:

    Hippieman said, “Why are so many Christians so right wing? Didn’t Jesus say give up everything (including filthy sucre) to “follow me.” I mean, the entire Republican Party ought to follow his advice.”

    I say, hey man, nice rhetoric.

    Now tell me where you are so I can come over and crash, man.

    I am cold.

    I am hungry.

    You need to take care of me.

    Just like Jesus would if he were around.

    Please post contact information.

  52. Hippieman says:

    Context???? Oh really. Jesus said to give up everything (rich man…needle…eye…got it?). That dude was certainly NOT a capitalist.He was an itinerant preacher (ie homeless) who hung around with lots of guys (hmmmmm) and prostitutes– and wore sandals and a beard (can you say “hippie”?. Modern American Christianism is a cult. Jesus would be appalled by their rank selfishness.

  53. Hippie Dibby Libray Man says:

    C’mon man, you gotta share with me and everyone else.

    Stop ranting for a minute and unlock the front door. We will just slip in and not make too much noise.

    Just make sure that we all get fed and can use your computer.

    Thanks.

  54. LIS degrees are a joke says:

    Hippieman:

    Um. Jesus worked for his father Joesph as a carpenter–and it was his won business. Hense, capitalism. Oh, but that doesn’t count because it was a small business right?

    By the way: I agree with Hippie Dibby Library Man. I need a palce to stay too. Do you have anything to eat? My income is low, and I need you to be like Jesus and share your worldly possessions. Thanks.

  55. LIS degrees are a joke says:

    Hippie Dibby Library Man:

    Hippieman does not own a computer because evil corporatists sell them. He is WAY above their standards and will only ise the ones for “free” at work and at whatever institution has them for public use. Also, he doesn’t own a refrigerator or any other appliance for that matter for the same reason he does not own a computer. He cleans his clothes by beating them with a rock at the local stream and cooks over an open fire outside.

  56. Mr. Clean says:

    I have personally met Hippieman, and if he has washed his clothes with or without a rock, I would be surprised.

  57. merricat says:

    Jesus was a closeted homosexual and political radical who’s real impact on the world was only because of later theologians choosing him as a poster boy for the world they wanted to create. You conservatives are so out of touch.

  58. Anna says:

    I don’t see why having a MLS makes you an intellectual. I don’t understand why librarians need a masters degree.
    My local library (Pasadena CA) finally quit coddling the homeless, and made a big push to attract the dwindling middle classes. The place is reasonably clean, the computers work, and the best sellers are plentiful. Does anyone do real research there? Maybe some middle schoolers.
    High school kids could run the place.