Annoyed Librarian
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Food and Stamps @ Your Library

A kind reader sent me a couple of articles on libraries that were providing lunches for children during the summer. Kids who are eligible for free lunches during the school year could come to libraries in Oakland or DC and get lunch there.

I’m assuming there are programs like this all across the country, and that the poor children wouldn’t have to trek to the east or west coast just to get a free lunch. Hardly worth the trouble.

The kind reader questioned whether this kind of thing was further eroding the mission of libraries.It’s a good question.

It’s a better question when considered in the light of another article right here in LJ: Libraries Could Double as Post Offices.

That article discussed how libraries in places so rinky-dink that their post offices are closing could replace some of the post office services by using the USPS’s Village Post Office Program.

The title of the article is the odd thing about it. Libraries could double? At this point, it’s like libraries could quadruple, or sextuple, or some higher “uple” as whatever random task needs doing in a community.

That might be good for the community in some ways, but is it good for the library? And is it good for the people in the community that need libraries?

Time and resources spent handing out food or selling people stamps are time and resources taken away from library related tasks. Are there not enough library tasks to do? Do they not need the space taken up by boxes and packaging materials for books?

If not, maybe all those libraries should start adding even more library services. If they’re already serving lunches, why shouldn’t libraries just “double” as food banks. Those are often services provided by the government, just like libraries.

Or soup kitchens. Some people are hungry for knowledge. Some people are hungry for entertainment. And some people are just plain hungry. Forget the overpriced cafes. Provide free lunches instead.

Plus you could count everyone who eats in the usage statistics, which would be helpful when trying to build a case for the library with people who foolishly think everything can be quantified.

It’s not that any of these are bad things. Poor children need lunches. Rural people need mail services. Then again, everybody needs something.

One danger is that as more services are added, more stuff has to be taken away. Put in a cafe and lose a space for books. Move a post office in and lose time for other things.

Another danger is to lose the idea of what a library is or could be. That might not be a bad thing for the public, but it’s not necessarily a good thing for librarians, who eventually won’t be necessary.

After all, why hired a degreed librarian to work in a library when what you really need is someone to hand out lunches, sell stamps, tinker with computers, or direct people to the cafe.

Some librarians probably like this sort of thing. They want to be general community superheroes. Many people might benefit, as no doubt the hungry children of DC and Oakland have this summer.

But as libraries become the places to get everything, they’ll also become places even less known for books and reading than they are now. Everyone can benefit, except for those people who really need libraries.

Eventually, libraries might go the way of post offices. People hardly need stamps these days, and eventually they’ll be getting all their ebooks from Amazon.

Then what’s left of library services can move into a small part of yet some other government agency. There will be a room in the county courthouse where kids can browse a few books or the unemployed can use a computer to apply for jobs, staffed by no one at all.


Please note that new comments for all posts on this blog have been closed.


  1. Ridiculous. So a child should go hungry so libraries and librarians can maintain what’s left of their self-shredded value.

    Feeding a child isn’t hastening the decline of libraries; the erosion of caring about patrons is.

    We get what we deserve.

  2. At the library where I work, we’ve provided free lunches for the past three summers now, and it has been (unsurprisingly) very well received. We partnered with a local food bank for the program, which means that their staff/volunteers do most of the work; we’re mainly providing space. The children’s librarians have developed a story time/book talk program that they present while the kids are eating, so it’s even helping our circ. All in all, success!

  3. I don’t see how adding these types of services in some communities would erode the mission of libraries. I’m not sure the mission of libraries is exactly the same in every community. I don’t know that it should be. The ideal of what a library is or could be may vary depending upon the needs of your community. And Carla gave an excellent example of how a non-traditional program can be paired with a traditional service and be successful. While it may be important to keep in mind the traditional mission of libraries (and librarians), too much fretting over erosion may not help in the long run.

  4. Development Arrested says:

    Although I’m for the most part very persnickety about the goings on at libraries, I have no problem with this. School’s have been doing this for a long while. It’s not like people are going to forget the true point of school’s is to educate rather than just give kids a hot meal and babysit their kids… Okay, maybe I see your point.

    Still, let’s face it: The children’s library has been nothing more than a baby-sitting service in the summer at many libraries for quite some time. If the kids are well fed, they’ll probably be more attentive and therefore more able to actually take advantage of what other services the library has to offer. Instead of thinking about how hungry they are, they can read a book. Although yes the library should be about disseminating information (and education on finding the best information), we don’t always have the luxury to compartmentalize. We can’t just have one building for providing kids with books and another on the other side of town for providing meals to the same kids.

    And besides, it’s not like an actual librarian is running this program. Yeah, she might have got the grant (and the credit), but this has been a para-professional project ever since.

  5. Development Arrested says:

    *Schools not school’s

    I need to proofread these better.

  6. I don’t think you can compare the two programs. Everyone I know who does the lunches has some kind of grant/community involvement and it’s usually tied to children’s programming, as Carla said. As far as I can tell, the village post office thing is basically dumping another job on us, because hey, librarians just sit around and read all day, right? I think you get 1% of sales or something, but that’s hardly going to cover the additional space, staff, and equipment needed. To put this in perspective, I am the only youth services librarian in a staff of 11 (all but 4 are part-time) serving a population of approximately 24,000. My volunteer from the school district and I offered 52 programs over the nine weeks of the summer session to an attendance of over 3,000 children and parents. That’s in addition to summer reading, desk time, collection development, marketing, trouble-shooting computers, and fundraising. Like heck am I gonna sell stamps.

  7. NOLA Bookie says:

    Clearly you have not had much experience working in either major urban areas or in rural ones.

    In major urban areas, where grinding poverty exists on a large scale, anything the library can do to help the individuals in the community, makes the community a better place. Maybe not on a grand scale, but if we can save one kid, so much the better. I am so angry at your arrogance that I am speechless. Oh, and by the way, I was a library director in a large city for many years, and worked in other places, too. These programs, besides saving kids, build relationships with community leaders and visibility with political leaders which result in better treatment for the public library in the funding process.

    At the same time, the role of the rural library is critical in a different way. While there are days I wish for more consolidation of small libraries, it is also a fact that there are many smaller isolated communities where the library is the sole gathering center. Travel outside those areas is often difficult, and residents are often economically disadvantaged.

    Your elitist attitude betrays you.

  8. Christopher Elliott says:

    Our library has been doing the free summer lunches for over 10 years. We simply incorporate it into our Summer Reading Program so it hasn’t taken away any resources that we weren’t already doing.
    The larger problem is that libraries are increasingly asked to do the job other government agencies no longer can’t/won’t do. For instance here, the Driver’s License agency now directs patrons to the library to get print outs of manuals (we charge $5 to cover printing fees). The Human Services tells client applying for aid to come to the library to use the computers to apply.

  9. Don’t be glib. AL is simply arguing that providing meals to children is outside the purview of a library’s mission, and that doing so could serve to erode the public’s already near-nonexistent view of what that mission actually is at this point. It has nothing to do wiht wanting children to go hungry or caring about patrons.

    So if city animal control, or the district attorney’s office doesn’t provide children with meals every day, does that mean they want children to go hungry and don’t care about children?

  10. Mind your own glib, Joey.

    Libraries ARE providing the meals, other agencies aren’t, and AL is arguing that libraries shouldn’t.

    Our library here in Flyover Country has a mission to serve the community. If the library (or an outside agency) wanted to serve meals to the patrons of my children’s library, I’d be first in line to serve up the grub.

    I’m thinking if you argue against feeding kids anywhere then you haven’t been hungry or seen many hungry kids.

  11. Development Arrested says:

    Yeah, I can see that. When I worked at a library, Indiana really cut back on their DMV services (making pretty much everything only available online), and the DMV (aka BMV in other states) would send patrons to use our computers. Often times, workers would have to teach these patrons how to use the DMV’s site.

    But really, I never saw a bona fide librarian do these tasks, but maybe there’s a library somewhere where the librarians don’t saddle their “paraprofessionals” with any task involving working with the public.

    But I digress…

  12. Speaking of “doubling,” ALA has begun the process of planning for quietly railroading communities to allow their libraries to “double” as news creators/disseminators for a major ALA funder who happens to also be involved in a multistate effort to commit voting fraud, among other things. There are more public libraries in the USA than McDonalds “if you can believe it,” excitedly explains one Office for Intellectual Freedom employee–yeah right, intellectual freedom–to think like the major funder who seeks the end of the US Constitution and the imposition of a one world government. Talk about “doubling”! Want proof? Details/sources at the link under my name.

  13. Roger Entwhistle says:

    Feed them kids! The annoyed librarian represents so much of what is wrong with our industry. Library managers and leaders are the biggest threat to our existence. Meet community needs, not libraran wants. Awful as expected. Booooo

  14. I expect that depends on your library, especially size and available staff. At my library the only person who does not work directly with the public is our part-time processor/repair person (and she actually works in circulation at another, unrelated library). Our cataloger doubles on the information desk, our director works desk time every week, and we all multitask. Our circulation staff only do circulation tasks – check out, renewals, fines, shelving, etc. Whoever is on the information desk not only dispenses information (and yes, I have heard all the bad jokes that old guys can possibly come up with) they also answer the phone, place holds, assist with the computers, copier, scanners and printing, distribute guest passes, etc. Our director, myself and adult services librarian all have an MLS, in case you were wondering.

  15. Cut Both Ways says:

    There is this idea called “the banality of evil.” It might cool your jets a bit to consider the sheer manpower and James-Bond-villain cat-stroking it would take to implement these dastardly schemes you speak of, including pulling the wool over the eyes of so many librarians across the country.

  16. These charges of elitism and uncaring bother me. By leveling these charges the writers are are saying that we can’t have honest discourse because they have no tolerance for opposing opinions. IA this really in our mission? An excellent question.

    I would decline taking on a lunch service. I would suggest that there are other community service providers with missions much more closely aligned to such a service. The analogy with school lunch programs ant their mission doesn’t hold up. If a child is hungry they will not learn as well — a direct connection to their mission to educate.

    Do I not care for the children? Sure I do. I serve on a working board for a community social services agency. I donate money and time to this and other social agencies. I just don’t believe the library needs to incorporate meals or other social services (or stamps, or lending tools, etc.) into our services to stay relevant or vibrant or important.

  17. Tired Librarian says:

    Food programs are like watching your neighbour beat their kids black and blue, and then offering the kid a daily band-aid.

    If people on unemployment, welfare or disability received benefits that they could live on, or wages that they could live on, food programs in libraries would be unnecessary.

    Couldn’t this site be moderated somehow to remove Danny-boy’s daily dose irrelevant paranoia? He was somewhat amusing at first – he grows tiresome.

  18. Hear, hear. Though, doing so might justify his paranoia all the more…

  19. “Ridiculous. So a child should go hungry so libraries and librarians can maintain what’s left of their self-shredded value.”

    Some of us applied to work at a library, not at a food kitchen, thank you.

  20. “In major urban areas, where grinding poverty exists on a large scale, anything the library can do to help the individuals in the community, makes the community a better place.”

    How about washing cars? Repairing clothes?

    You can also start up a dry-cleaning service too while you are at it.
    Yet another desperate do-gooder librarian that dumps even more non-library tasks on the lower staff while they feel good about themselves.

    Because you can bet they aren’t going to dirty themselves with it.

    How about quitting and going to work for a charity or the welfare office if you dont think a library that does actual library stuff is enough.

  21. “But as libraries become the places to get everything, they’ll also become places even less known for books and reading than they are now. Everyone can benefit, except for those people who really need libraries.”

    Thank you, AL!

    Some days I feel like I am forced to work at a homeless shelter/unemployment office/FedEX-Kinkos/Best Buy Geek Squad desk doing stuff that has zero to do with the library all because some executive libarian hiding in a posh office away from the public wants to look good at their next dinner party when they brag about all of the stuff libraries now do to “keep them in the forefront”.

    The idea of adding a food kitchen or a post office would be the last straw for me.

  22. Boring, off-topic and obtuse, Dan is a broken record.

  23. Except for Dan, most of the comments here have been interesting. However, the brickbat of “you want children to starve” is so tired. I’m sure we can have a reasonable discussion wherein we all grant each other the benefit of the doubt. My opinion is that teaching a man to fish is the mission of the library, but I’d be willing to consider reasonable opposing arguments, if they weren’t peppered with ridiculous insults.

  24. Library Spinster says:

    In my library system, there are rules requiring that branches have to have a certain number of staff in the building to open (four staff members, of which at least one must be a librarian and another must be a security guard. Every day there are branches that open more than an hour late. Or cannot open at all.

    It wouldn’t be good for the community to have their neighborhood branch offer lunches during the summer if they can’t be certain the branch will be open that day.

  25. Name the funder, or quit posting stuff like this.

  26. Rae Lovvorn says:

    Hear, hear! I have spent today in my library doing mostly tech support for students trying to get papers in for the end of summer quarter. Shortly, I’ll be running a voter registration drive, and publishing the student newsletter. These are not traditional library things, but they serve my students, and help them think of the library as the place to go to get information. Also, they keep me employed.

  27. Jack knows! Why not simply get rid of the library and open a full time charitable food service space run by volunteers- that happens to have a take a book leave a book program going on at the tables?

  28. Let’s face it, the main reason libraries want these services is to make themselves more useful to the community to argue at milage time. The same with all of this must speak spanish to get a job at the local AMERICAN library so we can keep spanish speaking people to not learn English. (I find this discriminatory as a) spanish is not required in this country 2) you are catering to one group of immigrants (what about Poles, Japanese, Germans, etc). I grew up in a bilingual area but our local library (while having a special sections for books in the language) did not make it a requirement to know that language to work there. If libraries cannot remain relevant for their designed purpose than they should be closed down.

  29. I Like Books says:

    Coming late, but anyway…

    I wouldn’t want to roll all of those unrelated services into the library, or ask the library staff to take them on. They have their own work to do. (Give it to the fire department? Give it to City Hall? Make Wal-Mart responsible for it? No, it’s gotta be the library, they’re not doing anything important…)

    But I do like the idea of co-locating different services. Like put the library into a community center that also houses a Post Office branch and other services that bring people into close enough proximity that they can window-shop and even walk in to see what the inside of a library looks like. A lot of people aren’t really sure what a library has; maybe they’ll find something they like.

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