A kind reader sent me a couple of articles on libraries that were providing lunches for children during the summer. Kids who are eligible for free lunches during the school year could come to libraries in Oakland or DC and get lunch there.
I’m assuming there are programs like this all across the country, and that the poor children wouldn’t have to trek to the east or west coast just to get a free lunch. Hardly worth the trouble.
The kind reader questioned whether this kind of thing was further eroding the mission of libraries.It’s a good question.
It’s a better question when considered in the light of another article right here in LJ: Libraries Could Double as Post Offices.
That article discussed how libraries in places so rinky-dink that their post offices are closing could replace some of the post office services by using the USPS’s Village Post Office Program.
The title of the article is the odd thing about it. Libraries could double? At this point, it’s like libraries could quadruple, or sextuple, or some higher “uple” as whatever random task needs doing in a community.
That might be good for the community in some ways, but is it good for the library? And is it good for the people in the community that need libraries?
Time and resources spent handing out food or selling people stamps are time and resources taken away from library related tasks. Are there not enough library tasks to do? Do they not need the space taken up by boxes and packaging materials for books?
If not, maybe all those libraries should start adding even more library services. If they’re already serving lunches, why shouldn’t libraries just “double” as food banks. Those are often services provided by the government, just like libraries.
Or soup kitchens. Some people are hungry for knowledge. Some people are hungry for entertainment. And some people are just plain hungry. Forget the overpriced cafes. Provide free lunches instead.
Plus you could count everyone who eats in the usage statistics, which would be helpful when trying to build a case for the library with people who foolishly think everything can be quantified.
It’s not that any of these are bad things. Poor children need lunches. Rural people need mail services. Then again, everybody needs something.
One danger is that as more services are added, more stuff has to be taken away. Put in a cafe and lose a space for books. Move a post office in and lose time for other things.
Another danger is to lose the idea of what a library is or could be. That might not be a bad thing for the public, but it’s not necessarily a good thing for librarians, who eventually won’t be necessary.
After all, why hired a degreed librarian to work in a library when what you really need is someone to hand out lunches, sell stamps, tinker with computers, or direct people to the cafe.
Some librarians probably like this sort of thing. They want to be general community superheroes. Many people might benefit, as no doubt the hungry children of DC and Oakland have this summer.
But as libraries become the places to get everything, they’ll also become places even less known for books and reading than they are now. Everyone can benefit, except for those people who really need libraries.
Eventually, libraries might go the way of post offices. People hardly need stamps these days, and eventually they’ll be getting all their ebooks from Amazon.
Then what’s left of library services can move into a small part of yet some other government agency. There will be a room in the county courthouse where kids can browse a few books or the unemployed can use a computer to apply for jobs, staffed by no one at all.