Before we begin, I want to point out a headline to which Betteridge’s Law of Headlines might not apply: Should Public Libraries Be Designated Gun-Free Zones? If you’re afraid to go into a public library without your gun, you’ve got serious problems.
And now to the fun stuff. I wonder why it’s so easy to make fun of people who criticize libraries or librarians. After all, there’s plenty to criticize, and I’ve done a lot of it myself over the years.
Usually the most ridiculous criticism comes from people who just plain don’t know what they’re talking about.
The guy in my last post didn’t know the difference between a library catalog and a discovery layer, claimed mistakenly that the University of Utrecht had gotten rid of their catalog, then used that as evidence that more libraries should do the same.
Or the people who never use libraries, probably haven’t been in one since they finished college, and who therefore claim “the library” is obsolete.
You know what I never ever use? Light beer. Thus, light beer must be obsolete.
And then there are the people you’re pretty sure should use libraries, but don’t. Let’s take a look at a tiny tempest brewing in Middletown, PA.
A couple of weeks ago, the Middletown Press and Herald published a letter to the editor claiming that Librarians are vital to schools. The writer, a Mr. Ammon, found out that neither the local high school nor the local middle school would have a certified librarian because of budget cuts.
His letter takes a two-pronged approach to defending school librarians. First, he cites three articles about how students with certified librarians, especially poor students, have better reading and writing scores than those without.
Second, there’s a response to what seems a strange complaint. Apparently there are people who “cry woe because the Middletown Area School District has a high rate of students with free and reduced lunches.” I assume the connection is that if the kids can’t even afford lunch then they don’t deserve a librarian. Or something. Doesn’t make much sense to me.
Nor to Ammon, who says the woe-crying is “without substance,” and then goes on to cite examples of schools with good library programs and a large proportion of students who get free lunches.
A well constructed argument: poor students are better off with librarians, and just because the students are poor doesn’t mean they can’t have good library programs. Not bad for a short letter to the editor.
It’s almost like Ammon has been trained to gather evidence, analyze it, and apply it in practical circumstances. Information literacy in action.
But the Press and Herald doesn’t restrict their feedback to the literate. No, you can also call them up on the phone and “sound off,” because what the world needs is more people sounding off.
One example of “sounding off” is this odd effort: “I don’t know why you don’t put this in Sound Off because it’s the truth: If the world was gay the human population would die off.”
Think on that one! I’m guessing in the off mind of that sounder, treating homosexuals as human beings with rights means the world is turning gay, and that’s bad for the population.
The opposite seems more likely. As homosexuals are allowed to be themselves and marry, they’re less likely to engage in sham marriages with the opposite sex and have children. Thus, if homosexuality is genetic, it could mean that the increase of gay marriage could decrease the likelihood of the gene passing on.
Therefore, homophobes should support marriage equality.
I have no idea if that makes sense, but it has to make more sense than the person sounding off.
People like to sound off about libraries, too. In response to the letter to the editor, we get this doozy:
How many libraries do we need? We have a public library, county library, PSU Harrisburg library, school libraries – and now Richard Ammon wants to keep paying for librarians. No offense, Mr. Ammon – 99 percent of the population doesn’t use them! Kids sleep or do homework in study hall, or use a computer for information. English teachers can show the kids how to use the library. Otherwise, it’s a good budget cut!
That sure is a lot of libraries! Those Middletown middle schoolers are probably going to get a lot out of the PSU Harrisburg library. And what’s the point of even having school libraries when the kids can just as easily get to the county and public libraries, where I’m pretty sure the librarians aren’t trained to do the same thing as school librarians.
But why have librarians at all? Since libraries house books, and English teachers teach books, the English teachers can teach about the library. At least I assume that’s the connection.
And cafeterias have food, and math teachers eat food, the math teachers could double as cooks. It’s all about efficiency with this guy.
But the best part is the dubious claim: “99 percent of the population doesn’t use them!” 99% of the population has never consulted with a librarian? Is that true? There’s no data cited.
I have no idea, although I’m pretty sure in schools with librarians, more than 1% of the students come in contact with the librarian.
But even if only 1% of the population has ever used a librarian, that’s still a few million people.
This person makes big claims without any real evidence and ignores the evidence actually presented. Information illiteracy in action.
This person is either poorly educated and thus in need of libraries, or else is an English teacher who doesn’t want the competition from school librarians.
And it fits with the catalog dumper’s logic. If everyone doesn’t want it, nobody gets it.
But having stupid arguments against libraries is no guarantee of failure. Reading Ammon’s careful letter and the poor response, I couldn’t help but think of the famous episode when Adlai Stevenson was running for President. “All thinking people are for you!” someone called out.
Stevenson replied, “That’s not enough. I need a majority.”