Annoyed Librarian
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Going To and Fro

It’s no secret that British libraries are under attack. The latest ones are apparently the Bristol libraries, which according to one editorial might be entering their “final chapter,” because British news writers are just as cliched as American ones.

Although closing libraries doesn’t amuse me, some of the arguments for doing so often do. In a response to the editorial about final chapters, there are some typically bad ones.

First, I love it when someone uses a stupid phrase like “fast moving digitalised 21st century,” because the 21st century isn’t moving any faster than the 20th century. It maybe just feels that way.

If you don’t agree, I don’t really mind, but compared to the invention of the airplane, the television, the radio, the computer, and the increasing popularity and access to automobiles and telephones, the 21st century is pretty tame so far. Even the Internet is a 20th century invention.

The 21st century has so far given us smartphones. I like smartphones, but really they’re just a combination of computers and mobile telephones, both 20th century inventions. Oh, and I guess there’s Second Life, once touted by librarians as the future.

Regardless, thinking of the century like that really has nothing to do with libraries.

That critic particularly likes the editorial’s claim that “ “The simple fact is that when it comes to spending taxpayers’ money there are now other more pressing (care of the elderly for example) needs.”

In the U.S. at least, one of the biggest groups that benefit from public libraries is children. Lots of books, literacy programs, story times, etc. If that argument were applied to America, it would basically say, “hey, let’s sacrifice children’s literacy for old people.”

It would probably work, because old people have most of the money and vote more than children do, but it would still be a bad argument.

And if you really want a good example of how illogical people think, check out this one: “Moreover, my seven-year-old grandson’s confidence in the use of an iPod confirms my opinion of just how anachronistic public libraries are.”

I can’t even figure out a possible connection between the ability to use iPods and public libraries.

But alas, sometimes when people come to the defense of libraries, they don’t do much better. Another respondent is troubled that the libraries might close because when he was unemployed he frequently used library computers to apply to jobs.

That sounds like a pretty good defense, and Internet access is a standard appeal for public libraries these days. If only he had stopped there.

You see, he’s also worried that the Central Library will close on Mondays. That’s a big problem because, well, I’ll let him explain it in his own words.

If the Central Library closes on Mondays this will mean that people without their own internet access at home will essentially be excluded from applying for jobs that are advertised on Mondays.

If the Central Library has to close one day a week a Sunday would be far more appropriate as it is not a traditional working day and new jobs are rarely posted on the internet on Sundays.

Hmmm. So close on Sunday, so people can apply for jobs on a Monday, because they couldn’t possibly wait until Tuesday to apply for jobs, because they’ll all be gone by then.

That would also cut by 50% the two traditional non-working days, so the people who have jobs will have half as much access to the library. That’s a win-win in anyone’s book!

Every once in a while I’d like to see arguments from the public about libraries that weren’t pointless or ridiculous. On the other hand, if that happened I’d have a little less enjoyment from mocking them.

It’s pretty easy this week to find stuff not to mock as well. I’m sure you all remember the Ferguson librarian who helped out the community during the late unpleasantness. Well, a lot of people donated money, some $350,000, and he used some of that to hire a children’s librarian. That’s a nice story to end the week on.

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Comments

  1. What’s funny about the elderly care argument is that seniors are probably the only group that public libraries cater to as much as children. I’ve never worked at a public library that didn’t have immense resources put into senior services. Whether it be book talks and programs at assisted living facilities and seniors centers to books-by-mail for home bound programs, to bookmobiles making weekly stops at senior centers and assisted living centers. Not to mention that volunteer and friends of the library tend to focus on this group as well.

    The only age group to come close to usage of public libraries to kids (and parents of young kids) are seniors. So, yes let’s move money away from the public library that helps seniors live fuller more social lives so we can funnel a little more money to for-profit assisted living centers.

  2. Well, we must not fall into the trap of thinking that the value of public libraries is obvious, especially to the weary taxpayer. Access is greater than at any other time in our history. And we can expect even greater access tomorrow and the day after that. Consequently, public libraries are faced with a big challenge. How can we make a compelling case that people still need public libraries in today’s world?

  3. Joneser says:

    So what about all of us in between the two groups? We get very little.

  4. I wouldn’t say we “get very little.” I’m part of that in-between group. Property taxes in my area are about $30 for the library for the year. I live in a different town than I work in. If I check-out 3 eBooks or 2 Hardcover books per year at my home library I’ve received my money’s worth.

    Also, plenty of libraries try to reach out to 20 and 30 somethings who don’t have kids. They just have varying levels of success. Children and seniors get more services because they are often less self-sufficient either due to age, ability, or health problems. I’m okay with that.

  5. One of the most impressive tactics devised by enemies of library funding, is to start off with the baseline assumption that “times are tight, therefore cuts somehow must be made.” There is really no limit to how widely one can apply this assumption. “Sure, libraries are cool, I guess, but times are tight, therefore if we have to choose between libraries and the fire department, well…I rest my case.” Logicians might call this a false dichotomy. Start with undermining the baseline assumption that there is no way we can somehow obtain enough tax revenue to accomplish both goals at once. Then, it’s a short leap to accepting that, although not all public goods are perhaps equally necessary, this is no reason to assume that failing to meet one of them will leave us in an acceptable position. Promoting literacy is surely something we should all accept as one of the bedrocks of a healthy democratic society. Granted, there are more ways than one to achieve that, but libraries are close to being one of the best ways. Another baseline assumption propagated by fools is the notion that the spread of technology necessarily changes things for the better, and that by virtue of its newness, it necessarily obviates the need for traditional technologies. This claim sounds persuasive but it is utterly untenable unless it’s backed up by evidence and data (this means looking at the research literature).

  6. It seems that simple use statistics relayed clearly and concisely would take away any room for argument against the need for and efficacy of public libraries.

    I know there’s a school of thought that we shouldn’t have to prove our value- but it’s really very easy to do. I’m not talking about the phony ROI calculators, but real usage numbers and value calculations like an economist would do. It’s not that hard- Texas has one- https://www.tsl.texas.gov/sites/default/files/public/tslac/pubs/ROI_Final.pdf

  7. noutopianlibrarian says:

    That’s an excellent report, Spencer. I’d guess Peggy Rudd’s leadership is sorely missed in Texas and Deborah Littrell’s support of the UT researchers was undoubtedly top-notch – she’s an excellent librarian as are so many at TSLAC – the ones who are left that is. In spite of such data, Texas is a national leader in hacking expenditures for school and public libraries and many of the fine programs that Ms. Rudd helped develop for Texas libraries have been eliminated or are on life support with a federal waiver allowing federal support despite the cuts and eliminations of state support. Facts like these support expenditures on public services like libraries for the benefits to the common good. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of this information, 88% of the funding for TSLAC programs was eliminated. Maybe a kickstarter campaign for library staff uniforms would help since the mindset of the Texas legislature is unlikely to change!

    As for momentous 21st century technology innovations, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include selfies!

  8. spencer says:

    We do miss Peggy, but Mark Smith is doing really good things out of Austin. I think this report wasn’t utilized correctly- or promoted correctly, maybe a better wording. I don’t think it’s shown enough to make the case.

    Also, this study was done in 2012- after the most massive of budget cuts from the state- so such arguments weren’t available for use then. For example, the lone star grant program ended in August, 2011. Grants are coming back from TSLAC.

    Also, in Texas I think we are a great example of doing more with less. Were the libraries of the UK to look at the successful Texas libraries that function on anorexic budgets they could improve their operations. We are doing great things here, really.

    Of course, there could be benefits to standardizing their dress as well- but if we don’t try we won’t know, will we.

  9. spencer says:

    sorry, my reply to myself belongs here…

  10. noutopianlibrarian says:

    since I’m no longer part of the Texas library community, I don’t have much on-the-ground knowledge of what Mark Smith has accomplished since taking the State Librarian position. I was heartened that he was willing to beg IMLS (2 appeals) for continued federal funding funding in the face of the cuts from the state. It might’ve been a different story if the visionaries in the U.S. house had eliminated IMLS and LSTA as they have attempted. Of course, a clever economist can make a lot of hay out of ROI for a short time when the “I” portion is eliminated. Over the long haul, it is public investment in public institutions, managed and carried out by public employees that underlies the quality of life enjoyed by our citizens, and also that underlies a great deal of the technological innovation that, despite comparisons of the 20th century (100 years) with the 21st century (15 years) will, IMO, make the PC and airplanes look like the abacus and ox-carts, that is, if government funding of R&D survives, libraries continue to have funding to make this R&D available to scholars and researchers, and the sky doesn’t fall. (/).

    The best with Mark Smith. I’m personally glad I left Texas when I did, as fond as I am of the state, the wonderful libraries, and the hundreds of librarians and government employees I worked with there while I was there in the days before smartphones and social networks.

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