In the classic 1975 film Rollerball, giant evil corporations govern the world. There are many other films and books with such a premise, but they didn’t pop up on Netflix when I was home with a cold a few weeks ago, so they don’t get a mention.
I bring it up because of the recent story about two libraries accepting paid ads from businesses to bring in more revenue. This could be a brief fad, or it could be the first step to a dystopian future where library walls look like billboards and library staff like NASCAR drivers.
In Toronto, the libraries are putting ads on the back of date due slips, but in Port Chester – Rye Brook, NY the ads are on toilet paper, which a Kind Reader alerted me to. Toilet paper ads, because those businesses want to go where the library patrons “go.”
In a bit of confused reporting, the article briefly implies that the chair of ALA’s professional ethics committee agrees with the librarians in Toronto selling the ads, but it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t, saying, “Is the loss of the library’s reputation within the community worth the potential advertising revenue?”
I guess the answer to that question would depend on what the reputation was before the advertising, but you get the point. The idea is that libraries are places where commerce doesn’t belong, probably because libraries are supposed to be for everyone and not just those who can afford to pay.
It’s a nice sentiment, and I can see the logic behind it. Commerce is inherently exclusive.
Corporations often make a lot of money because people buy their expensive products so they can deliberately exclude themselves from the people who can’t afford them. All the BMW driving librarians reading this on their iPads will know what I’m talking about.
Libraries are about inclusivity, embracing the middle class, tolerating the underclass, and hoping to get donations from the upper class who never use them.
Unfortunately, the anti-commercial practice disappeared from libraries a long time ago.
For example, one popular feature in libraries is ebooks. Most of them come from Overdrive, and Overdrive is branded, and every Overdrive page I’ve seen looks pretty much like another, with maybe a few colors different.
Then there’s the very popular database provider Ebsco. Every Ebsco page I’ve ever seen looks exactly like, colors and all.
Another popular database provider is ProQuest. And ProQuest always looks like ProQuest.
Ebrary always looks like Ebrary.
Libraries pay a lot of money for these products, only to have the products then brand themselves to draw attention from the library.
The head of the ALA professional ethics committee asks another good question: “Would advertisers’ messages appear to give them a place of privilege when a patron asks for a list of all local establishments in that line of business?”
I would think not, but who knows. Regardless, we could ask the ALA the same question. Does the ALA privilege Gale for providing the buses at conferences, or Cengage for providing branded badge holders, or Ebsco for providing branded tote bags?
ALA publications have all sorts of ads from library vendors hawking everything from books to furniture.
The ALA isn’t a library, you might say, but it’s still a member-funded organization that takes in ad revenue without consulting the members. Have they ever had a member vote on whether we want Ebsco printed on all our tote bags? When will we have a resolution from SRRT about that one?
Anyway, back to ads in libraries. It’s too late to object, because the corporations providing just about everything for libraries have already branded them. Many of the online interactions library patrons have with libraries already take place in a corporate branded environment.
So what difference does it make if the physical interactions are any different? If libraries are already about Overdrive and Ebsco, why shouldn’t they also be about pizza joints or personal injury lawyers?