I’ve just started looking at the ALA’s 2010 State of American Libraries Report, and it is a wonder to behold. Partly, it shows that the ALA is finally getting serious about the state of libraries while the twopointopians are still engaging in the same frivolous activities they have been for years.
As I noticed in The End of Silliness a couple of months ago, the ALA seems to have realized that feel-good stories about libraries and videogames weren’t helping anything. Nor was coming across as defenders of child pornography with their wasted time and money fighting CIPA and DOPA, or passing silly resolutions. Instead, they seemed to be realizing that people support libraries for serious purposes, and no city would ever fund a library just to provide free DVDs and videogames.
Now they notice that during the recession more people are using public libraries while their funding is simultaneously being cut or threatened just about everywhere in the country.
As the economy has worsened . . . people are coming to libraries to look for jobs, they’re coming to libraries to access government services and government assistance, and they’re coming to libraries because libraries are a great deal for people that are trying to stretch a dollar,” ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels said in AL Focus in May. “So we have a situation nationally where we’re seeing library usage increasing 10 percent, 20 percent, in some instances almost 30 percent, while at the same time, library budgets are threatened and library budgets in some instances are being reduced.
“At this point, this is the dilemma we face—libraries are being more heavily used than ever,” Fiels said. “At the same time, library budgets are more threatened than ever.”
At least they’re smart enough not to think of this as some sort of contradiction, like the boneheads who can’t figure out why we build more prisons even as the crime rate goes down. The cause is obvious. Governments aren’t cutting library funding because they don’t like libraries; they’re cutting library funding because they don’t have as much money. Communities with lots unemployed people or lots of foreclosures and falling property values aren’t going to have much money to give.
Librarians go on about how essential library services are and how much people use and like libraries. That’s a refreshing change from going on about how hip they are or how without Facebook pages and blogs libraries will decline.
And, according to the report, library use has been increasing for a decade, and the recession increased the use more. Here are some figures:
77 percent of households reported taking out books (e-book, paper book, or book on tape) as the number one use. Second was consulting a librarian (67 percent), followed by connecting to the Internet (41 percent) and checking email (25 percent)….
- Forty-one percent of respondents, representing more than 62 million Americans, cited education (homework or to take a class) as the number one purpose.
- Seventeen percent of respondents (representing about 26 million Americans) visited their public library to use a computer, and 11 percent (representing almost 17 million people) to write a paper or prepare a résumé.
- Eleven percent (representing almost 16 million Americans) visited the library to conduct a job search or write a résumé.
Other top uses included entertainment (35 percent) and to obtain national or local news or information (11 percent).
It’s hard to argue with the data, even if it’s spun slightly to deemphasize the library as entertainment center.
And what do the librarians have to say for themselves? 61 percent of libraries report that providing access to government information is one of the most critical Internet services they provide. 65.9 percent of public libraries reported that providing services for job-seekers is critical to their role. That sounds disturbingly serious.
If the report is correct, what people want most from libraries are books, computers, and help using them.
Guess what they conspicuously don’t care about? Library-related social media, the darling of twopointopians.
Have libraries been successful in using social networking sites? Not if success is to be measured by the number of “friends” libraries have acquired, says Richard W. Boss in “Social Networking Sites and Libraries,” a paper prepared in October 2009 for the Public Library Association. Most libraries have only a few hundred friends, Boss says, and none has more than 10,000. On average, fewer than one percent of the population served by a library have identified themselves as “friends” of their library on a social networking site. [And I'd bet that most of those people are local librarians.]
That’s a great opening, but the ALA works hard in the rest of the section on Social Networking and Libraries to promote the twopointopians. What’s interesting about the rest of that section is the focus not on what library users want, but on what librarians want. But that’s always been the case with the twopointopians.
We get some irrelevant statistics about how many people are using Facebook and Twitter. This is a mainstay in what passes for the twopointopian arsenal for debate. Lots of people use it. Thus we must use it. The gap in logic here is that lots of people use it, but not with the library. Lots of people watch television, too, but libraries don’t produce television shows.
Then we get some twopointopians telling us how Library 2.0 is changing all of our jobs even though it isn’t changing most of our jobs. Then we find out libraries will be using social media to promote the library more. It all seems to deny the only user-centered statistic provided, which is that library users don’t care. They want books and DVDs and computers and storytimes, and they don’t care if the Frivolous Technologies Librarian is busily stroking his iPad in the basement.
While the twopointopians have been making baseless claims about their supposed relevance and superiority and the overwhelming importance of their grand selves, library users have been coming to the library to do the same things they were doing before, except with more Internet access. They’re not "friending" the library. They’re not following the twopointopians on Twitter. They’re not reading or commenting on library blogs. In fact, they don’t really care what the librarians have to say unless they need help with something, and then they ask.
The claim that social media is some sort of necessary game-changer for libraries because library users are demanding it is a sham. The twopointopians talk a good game, but they can’t produce any studies that show any positive effect for library users or any increased support for libraries. Oh, but at a "techie" panel at ALA Annual 2009, they could agree "that traditional ways of thinking might not be sufficient to judge Lib 2.0 effectiveness." Convenient, isn’t it?
The ALA has finally realized it’s about the economy, stupid. Money matters, and neither the pols nor the public fund libraries because they have Twitter feeds and Facebook pages. Libraries provide essential services people need and sacrificing libraries during budget crises harms the community. Proving that to the powers that be is essential to the success of libraries. In this crisis, anything that isn’t giving library users what they want and need or persuading governments of the necessity of library services is just a waste of time.
[Nota bene in re comments: I'm going to be moderating comments for a while until the monkeys return to their cages. Sad, but true. A couple of pathetic monkeys furiously typing will never create anything of value, but they clutter the comments with their verbiage. Relevant or even remotely interesting comments will of course be published. If you want a public forum to broadcast your irrelevant inanities, use Twitter. That's what it's there for.]