Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

How Not to Lobby for a Library

Somewhere in the Old Dominion State they’re wondering whether it’s time to build new libraries. Is it the right time, they ask.

Are we ready? Is it time? Are we prepared? It could be that libraries are like children. A lot of people say if you wait until you’re ready to have a child, you’ll never have a child. Seems like sensible advice. Unfortunately, libraries can’t just happen by accident.

If you wait until it’s time to build a library, maybe you’ll never build a library. When can one ever be justified? Aren’t there always other things you could spend money on?

Some seem to think so. “When we have student teacher ratios through the roof, why are we talking about building new libraries?” someone asks.

That kind of argument could be used about anything, though. While we still have any crime, why spend money on schools when we could hire more cops? While we still have rich people who don’t want to pay any taxes at all, why spend money on anything?

Spending money on libraries requires a good reason, because those student teacher ratios aren’t just going to reduce themselves.

There are probably plenty of good reasons. People could produce those studies that conveniently claim every dollar spent on libraries returns $87 to the community, or whatever the figure is.

Libraries provide various edutainment benefits as well. Talk up the edutainment, because that’s the sort of notion that really fires people up to spend more public money.

Or you could talk about how the poor need Internet access and homeless people need a place to read the newspaper.

And then there are the not so good reasons.

For example, you could argue that a city needs to build a new library so that high school students don’t go to Burger King after school. That seems pretty convincing.

One resident seriously argues that’s a reason to build a new library near a high school.

“The kids pour into Burger King because the school is being used at almost all hours of the day, after school, up until 11 o’clock, and there’s no where else for them to go other than a store,” said Westcott. “As a taxpayer, I like to have my government provide a public space for my kids to hang out.”

Why not spend some money on a bus service? That’s got to be cheaper than building libraries.

Does that seem like a good reason to spend $14 million, the proposed cost of the library? Because “Burger King is a place to eat, not a place for high school teens to hang out after class”?

Setting aside the questionable notion that Burger King is place to eat, what exactly is the problem here? Is Burger King complaining about the local teens hanging out there?

Are the teens gorging themselves on Burger King food and growing markedly unhealthy? And if so, wouldn’t they be doing that anyway?

Of all the possible reasons to build a public library, this seems like one of the poorest ones I’ve ever heard. Build a library so teens have a public space to hang out in after school. The government already provides a public school to educate her children.

Even if it was a responsibility of the government to provide a public space for this woman’s children to hang out, it doesn’t need to be a library.

They could do that just as well by building an empty warehouse and letting teens hang out in it. Throw in some house music and ecstasy and they could bring raves back into style.

I’m tempted to think the reporter thinks a new library is a bad idea. Otherwise, why lead with the least compelling reason to build a new library and end with some strong criticism.

There are plenty of reasons to build libraries, but if you’re lobbying for one, I’d suggest not claiming your community needs one so kids will have a place to hang out after school. It could also be a place for that, but there have to be better reasons.



  1. I suppose it all depends on if the high school students are hanging out in BK studying or not… if they are forced to use a fast food place as their only study space, then yes a library is a good alternative! If not… I agree it’s a pretty odd reason to lead with in the case for a new library.

  2. supersizeme says:

    There could be an opportunity for great synergy here. Instead of a Starbucks they could just do a Burger King in the library. Win win. Also, would you like fries with that?

  3. It’s obviously not a very strong or nuanced argument but I think I understand the underlying sentiment. There is an argument to be had that a space for teens (and adults) that is safe, inviting, and is filled with great resources (informational & entertainment) is worthwhile. That’s something that those of us who aren’t completely anti-tax can get behind.

    I really like the idea behind the library as “third place.” If you can get teens to use and buy into the library as “third place” at that age it’s something that they’ll take into adulthood when they become the voting and tax-paying public.

    • cat fancy says:

      Why do people continue to think that libraries are ‘safe’ places for kids to hang out?? They are public buildings — open to everyone. It is not any safer to send your kids alone into a library than it is to send them into any other building where the public gathers. Librarians are not babysitters — and we are not keeping an eye on your kids every minute. So don’t assume they are ‘safe’ from attention by others in the library!

    • Notice how I said teens and not kids? Crazy how this whole “language” thing works. Since when is a 15 year old expected to be babysat?

  4. Our library is a major hangout for the middle school and high schoolers.

  5. Just wondering… What is the ALA willing to cut? Doesn’t sound like they are team players since they have not offered any suggestions to balance the budget.

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