Maybe I’m just growing complacent in my old age, but this seems to be my week for not understanding what all the fuss is about. Is there something annoying going on in a library?
I’ll let you decide for yourself. Let me give you the general picture before filling in the details.
A Kind Reader sent a link to an invitation to participate in a “cataloging party” at a library. At the cataloging party, librarians and library school students are invited to come to the library, enjoy coffee and pizza and help with a large amount of cataloging that has to be done for a migration project.
Kind Reader considers it a “cataloging sweatshop,” and comments, “I think I found another reason why libraries no longer hire librarians or don’t replace them once they have retired.”
To compound the offense, the same librarian in charge of the cataloging party recently bragged at a conference about doing part of this migration project through volunteer labor, saving $3,000 on consultants or vendor fees.
If we look at this a certain way, it could be pretty annoying. If public libraries were routinely run by volunteers because they didn’t want to hire librarians, that would probably be a bad way to do things. Volunteers in libraries can be great, but they’re a way to supplement librarians, not replace them.
On the other hand….
Reading the brag, we find out that “The Toronto Botanical Garden (TBG) is an educational non-profit organization whose mission is to connect people, plants and the natural world through education, inspiration and leadership,” and that, “With a small core staff, the TBG self-generates over 95% of its operating income and is run chiefly by volunteers, as is the Weston Family Library.”
How many of you work in libraries that are part of organizations having to raise 95% of their own funding? Almost no one working in public or school libraries or libraries in public institutions of higher education. Your funding might still be bad, but much more than 5% of it comes from taxes.
Private colleges and universities need to raise a lot of their money each year, but a lot of those have endowments that help out. Plus they charge a lot more in tuition than I assume the TBG charges for entry. In fact, as far as I can tell, visiting the gardens and the library is free, and what money they make is from offering lectures and classes.
So while I understand the frustration of libraries not hiring librarians when they need them, and could perhaps even afford them, especially from librarians who need work when libraries are eliminating professional librarians for poorly paid staff or volunteers, I’m willing to cut this library some slack.
It sounds to me like the entire enterprise is trying to do good deeds without any significant guaranteed sources of funding. I’ve visited lots of small museums over the years that have so little money they would have to close if they weren’t staffed mainly by volunteers, so the choice isn’t paying people or hoarding cash, but getting volunteers or closing down.
This is the model of lot of educational nonprofits, but it’s not typically the model of libraries, which maybe explains the initial annoyance.