I’m not sure what to make of this letter to the editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The writer was kicked out of the public library during normal library business hours because the library was “closed for a private party.”
He was understandably upset.
Learning is the lifeblood of a free society. It’s also the sole purpose of a public library. According to a Longfellow quote on its exterior wall, the St. Louis library serves “the love of learning (and) books,” not cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. I understand that private philanthropic events help fund the library, but if funding a public library means locking the public out, it’s not really a public library anymore, is it?
That seems to be a fair question. Kicking people out of a library who are there to read in favor of people who are there to party just seems wrong.
One of the commenters claimed extraordinary prescience in saying he “warned you about all this,” and then complained about being taxed to pay for public things.
These are tax-sheltered institutions and tax-supported. So, don’t ask again why your taxes are too high, and you pay high sales tax at retail. There is something in the City Hall Rotunda tonigtht, I believe. St. Louis public buildings have become tax-sheltered, money-processing parties and special events centers.
At first I thought this might be some library fundraising adventure, but all I could find from the library was a tweet that the library would be closing at 5pm for a private party, so it does seem from the outside that the library wasn’t holding a library fundraiser, but really was being rented out for a private party.
Thus, is would seem that the cranky commenter was on to something. This even goes beyond using the library to have stripping lessons or massage therapy. At least then people who want a library instead of a mall can still use the library. But if people are kicked out entirely, the purpose of the library isn’t just stretched to a breaking point, it’s nullified altogether.
On the other hand, it’s possible that at least the money from the private party was going to the library, so that even though it wasn’t a fundraiser as such it raised funds for library things. If that’s the case, then there might be something to say for renting out the library.
I say “if” advisedly, because it’s also just as likely that the library is just being treated like any other public building that is closed and then rented back to the public. The money could all be going to the city and not the library.
Either way, this does raise an important question both about the purpose of libraries and the purpose of public spaces. Traditionally, libraries are very public spaces. Everyone is welcome. This is the case whether you think of libraries as community centers or the university of the people. To block the public from such a preeminently public space seems like an egregious violation of mission.
Plus, it’s not just blocking the public from a public space. It’s privatizing a public space. Some members of the public still got to enjoy being in the library that evening. Specifically, those members of the public who could pay a little extra to make a public library their private playground.
That would seem to me a further violation of what libraries are about, promoting the free exchange of ideas and information and the use of public spaces like libraries regardless of your ability to pay. Thus, we really have a violation of both the specific purpose of libraries and a larger purpose that libraries should support.
Somehow, I suspect the people renting public libraries out to private parties don’t think that way, and don’t care that anyone else does.