Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Public Libraries and Private Parties

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.

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Comments

  1. Anony Mouse says:

    Look at what the Providence “Public” Library is doing.

    Please don’t spill your champagne or drop your caviar.

  2. Abigail Miller says:

    It’s also possible that it was a party for the librarians, not the public and no money changed hands at all. I worked at a public library for a time (I’m now in an academic library) and we would occasionally close the library early for information sessions so all librarians could attend and no one had to man the desk or so all librarians could attend the town meeting, etc. It was also occasionally closed early for meetings or staff celebrations to make sure all staff could participate. It did not happen often and we did our best to not inconvenience the patrons, but librarians are people too. Without knowing for sure what “private party” means, it’s very hard to make a fair judgement.

  3. annoyedlibraryworker says:

    I would think it would matter how often this happens, I think most larger libraries have acquiesced to these kinds of “private” events from time to time in order to maintain friendly connections with politicians and business leaders that they hope will help them come budget time. If this happens often and with little or no advanced notice, the writer has a reason to be aggravated.

  4. whocares says:

    I dont hear complaints that the flowers purschased for the event looked beautiful for the partrons the next day and covered up the smell of the indigent smokers and provided a bit of natural color while the freaks surfed porn on public funded computers….

  5. Cranky says:

    Perhaps instead of speculating on the motives of the library in question, you could have called them and asked. I bet librarians in St. Louis answer the phone just like the rest of us. I realize that blogging is not investigative journalism, but since you were going to center an entire post around the issue a small amount of research would have make sense, I think.

    • I agree. Has anyone called them and found out what was going on?

    • I Like Books says:

      Reading the letter, the “dandily dressed men and women”, the “live jazz band”, well, I don’t think it was an informational session for the librarians. There was money there.

      The author of the letter mentioned private philanthropic events, and that’s likely what it was.

      I’ll try to remember, and get around to, calling them when they’re open.

    • Annoyed Librarian says:

      There are obvious reasons a pseudonymous blogger doesn’t just call up a library and start asking questions like this. Regardless, the ethical questions are valid without reference to a specific library incident at all. But if someone wants to dig deeper into the facts of this specific case, feel free to post them in the comments.

  6. anonymous says:

    According to several articles located by a simple Google search, the library had just re-opened after an extended closure of two years for a major remodeling and renovation, and there were a few reported fundraiser parties held by various groups to showcase the remodeling and raise money to pay for it — in one case at $50k per plate. It’s likely one of these events disturbed the studious patron who took umbrage at the inconvenience of accommodating those who have made it possible for him to be there in the first place. No good deed goes unpunished. But it sounds like the library could have handled it better.

  7. MedLibrarian says:

    I just don’t understand why they had to close the entire library, unless the library is so small that they had to. Or why couldn’t they hold the event after hours? I am not sure which of it’s branches this happened at but according to their website some are open until 7 on Thursdays and others at 9. I am assuming it was one that closes at 9. But these seem to be the larger libraries that could hold a private event and allow access to the books and computers to patrons.

    I worked in a public library that often had opening receptions for local art that we would display. There would be drinking, eating and chatter ( too much if you ask me!) and the library would still be open for patrons.

  8. Just Some Details says:

    As an employee of the library in question, I would just like to say this: the aggravated patron’s story was somewhat skewed, as he stated he was told to leave the library, when in reality, he only had to leave a particular section of the library that was being used to set up for the event. This patron was not a resident of St. Louis city, and therefore his property taxes don’t directly fund the library. In addition, it turns out said patron does not even hold a library card with St. Louis Public.