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The Fraying Macrocosm

A Kind Reader sent the following article about the library situation in Humboldt County, CA, with a small concern that the topic is beating a dead horse. It’s yet another installment in the now popular genre of articles on libraries dealing with drug overdoses, etc., which seems to be expanding daily, both the problems and the articles.

The microessay on the meaning of “microcosm” might be useful for some people, but my readers can probably skip it. In Humboldt County, the library director thinks the library is “a microcosm “of what’s going on in a given society,” and if so the macrocosm, at least in Humboldt County, is a mess.

The question is still open about whether the macrocosm is messy or not except in some locations. Denver, Philadelphia, and San Francisco keep showing up as places where the libraries have to deal with drug overdoses, such as in this article sent in by another Kind Reader.

But if you’ve been following the stream of news articles, you might notice that the same few places keep showing up as one news site after another covers a handful of stories that went national weeks or months ago.

Humboldt County is new, at least to me, but how representative is it? The big difference from the other stories is that the principle city in Humboldt County, Eureka, is about 30,000 people, with another 15,000 or so in “greater Eureka,” so it’s pretty small by comparison.

While there have been numerous news articles about the opioid epidemic hitting small towns and cities, there hasn’t been much until now about libraries dealing with the attendant social problems. Now there is. Progress!

The other part that hadn’t made it as much into other articles I’ve read are the staff complaints, and the staff sure love to complain. It’s always good to let them, too, so they can blow off steam instead of starting a revolution.

One complaint is about dealing with the problems: “Employees, meanwhile, tell the Outpost that while they love their jobs, the increasing frequency of disturbing incidents is taking a toll, leaving them stressed out and, in some cases, concerned for their safety.”

Wait, aren’t we all supposed to be concerned with how the library can help everyone with everything? This is hardly an example of the selfless dedication to an ungrateful public that the ALA seems to expect. This sounds like staff who think their welfare maybe shouldn’t be endangered by the most troublesome of patrons. That’s just crazy.

The other complaint is that the director, “who serves as an elected board member for the California Library Association, among other responsibilities, spends far too much time out of town to adequately address the problems facing our local libraries.”

That sounds like the complaint of people who are a little bitter that they have to stick it out in the library while the director engages in the sort of professional activities most librarians do when they have the chance. It’s even the kind of thing they’re expected to do.

So that could just be a conflict between staff who view only the library and the director who also looks out to the profession, but who knows, maybe she wants to escape the needles as well. Who wouldn’t.

What exactly is the library director supposed to do, though? She wants more money for staff and security, the same as apparently everyone else. Even the flak jackets one staff member wants costs money.

It’s not like it takes a genius to solve the most immediate problems there. It takes money.

Bringing in more security guards costs money. Adding social workers costs money. And apparently the library doesn’t have much, so it would seem the top priority for the director is getting more money for the library, and she’s working on it.

But if the library really is a microcosm, the problems can’t really be solved within the library, no matter how dedicated the staff or the director are. The immediate problems need money, but the broader problems of a fraying community need something else.

Something else needs to be done, but it will take more than mere money. Where does that leave libraries?

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Comments

  1. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    Well, the library director could bring up this topic when (s)he is attending one of the many California Library Association meetings and see if there is a sizable number of library districts who are also facing the same problem. Then the CLA could lobby the state government for more assistance (isn’t that part of a library association’s purpose — to lobby government?).

    Of course, I once worked for a library director whose many “meetings” took place primarily at a suburban shopping mall, so there could be underlying resentment from staff if that was the case.

  2. Library Observer says:

    Isn’t it funny ( but not in a humorous way ) that in the UK libraries can be run totally by volunteers. The one my cousin goes to has One, just one retired Librarian who volunteers to come in three half days a week, and that’s it. And everybody seems to be happy with the results and service.

    Then you get this case where two-thirds of the budget goes towards high priced staff, they have over 200 volunteers, much of their resources are donated according to the article — and they still need money ?!?

    Talk about a bunch of Librarians latching onto the Government gravy train.

    Just shows what I’ve been saying for the last few years. That putting Librarians in charge of running a Public Library makes about as much sense as a Jock running the NFL, a Doctor running a Hospital, or an author running a publication house — because they’re all out of their depth.

  3. “But if the library really is a microcosm, the problems can’t really be solved within the library, no matter how dedicated the staff or the director are. The immediate problems need money, but the broader problems of a fraying community need something else.”

    Thanks, AL. You hit the nail on the head with those two sentences. They apply equally well to schools, by the way. American society has massive, systemic problems, and local efforts, no matter how sincere, will be limited in their ability to address the dysfunction even on a small scale.

  4. Joneser says:

    It all depends on how much participation the director is doing, and whether it’s to pad their resume or actually do something constructive. Professional activities are one thing, but neglecting the job paying the salary is another. The staff are probably frustrated b/c they can’t do a darn thing w/o the director’s approval, but said director is nowhere to be seen.

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