A kind reader sent in this news story from Atlanta with the following comment: “Lots to chew on in this substantive account of how self-preservation is the #1 job of library staff.”
Indeed there is. The story is the by now typical one of how this isn’t your grandfather’s public library anymore. On the other hand, it can also be read as a story of how public libraries don’t need librarians anymore. Librarians are turning into carnies. So why not just replace them with carnies? Carnies are cheaper.
In Atlanta, a public library offers performances by barbershop quartets and brass quintets. One singer “hit a high note so resonant it could be heard well past the commons area.” That’s the sort of behavior that should get someone kicked out of a library, not invited to it.
“So much of that dynamic programming used to go on in meeting rooms where it wasn’t visible,” said Raphael. “Now it spills out. Now we say, ‘We want you to be comfortable.’
Is that what we say? It’s not what I say. I don’t want your brass quintets and yoga classes spilling out into the library common area.
But it makes sense, of course, because “libraries also see an edge in providing the space for people to gather, and in teaming with other groups, both nonprofits and individuals, to offer experiences that will bring bodies into their stacks.”
Bring bodies to the stacks…by any means necessary. The carny librarian’s mantra. It’s a recipe for survival for librarians if they want to survive as degraded former professionals who serve no purpose other than to get people into a building.
A member of the brass quintet who no doubt annoyed everyone who was trying to use the library as a library chanted the new librarian mantra. ““The library has had to become a community center, otherwise they’re not going to survive.”
Ahem. Perhaps it should be pointed out that if libraries become community centers offering live music and pet massages, then they won’t survive. They will die and be replaced by some center of random activity that no community would ever have taxed itself to fund. The only losers are people who need real libraries.
As libraries move further away from the mission to promote public literacy, their funding is in increasing danger. All that needs to happen is a few hundred more articles like this, and plenty of TV news coverage, so that the general populace can see how their tax money is being spent.
Libraries aren’t doing a good enough job of spreading the word. A “lot of systems have no advertising budget because of the perception that taxpayers will object to their money being spent that way.”
That’s not just a “perception,” that’s a reality. Taxpayers object to this kind of thing all the time. All it takes is for them to find out what’s really going on in public libraries, and that the money they work hard to earn is being spent with the sole purpose of drawing people into a building called a library. It’s bread and circuses, only with less bread and more circus every year.
“You’ve got to make the place a happening spot to be,” according to one librarian. “If you stick with the mission of just being a repository of books and materials, that way extinction lies.”
Extinction for what? Extinction for the jobs of people who call themselves librarians and paid by budgets intended libraries. As for the libraries? If this current trend continues, libraries will be extinct.
The only good news for taxpayers in all this is that there’s no real problem now with slashing library budgets. Libraries were once upon a time serious places, and then for many decades they were basically infotainment centers. Now they’re becoming entertainment centers where much of the entertainment is provided by people for free.
What doesn’t an entertainment center need? The entertainment centers formerly known as libraries don’t need money for books. Book stacks just get in the way of barbershop quartets and banks of dated computers.
They don’t need DVDs, either. Public libraries began as places to supply books in quantities that people couldn’t afford individually, but there are relatively few Americans who can’t afford $10/ month for Netflix, and the ones who truly can’t afford that probably don’t use libraries anyway.
And it certainly doesn’t need degreed librarians. Hiring a professional librarian to run something like this would be a total waste of money. You don’t even need a college degree. The biggest item in a lot of library budgets is staff. Stop hiring people with library degrees and hire some even cheaper people. What difference does it make?
As a person who thinks public libraries provide educational benefits to their communities, I’m saddened by their descent into irrelevance and obsolescence.
But as a taxpayer, it’s at least some comfort to know that when libraries turn themselves into entertainment centers, I don’t have to feel bad about their funding being cut. So at least this cloud has a silver lining.
As for the library school students hoping to work in public libraries, I suggest turning your energy and talents in another direction, because if the carny librarians have their way, you won’t have a library to work in anymore.