Friday, January 05, 2007

On Libraries & The Classics

This is excerpted from an email I sent my friend Lisa, who asked my opinion about a recent Wall Street Journal article on collection development in public libraries. The article is from 1/3/07, titled "In the Fray: Should Libraries' Target Audience Be Cheapskates With Mass-Market Tastes?" I would link to the article, but WSJ is chintzy about putting their archives online.

Regarding the article:

My first reaction is, "this guy obviously hasn't spent much time in his local library." His overgeneralization and "the sky is falling" panicked attitude was based on the actions of one library. His complete lack of detail in the article leads me to believe that he truly does not understand what that specific library (and public libraries as a whole) is actually doing. No public collection development librarian worth her salt would pull every copy of Hemingway or Shakespeare, even if they haven't been checked out in 2 years. Perhaps she would reduce the number of copies, because lack of space is truly an issue at many libraries. I believe his theory about libraries pulling all of the classics simply because they haven't circulated is completely invalid.

He seemed out of touch with library systems - since the dawn of libraries, librarians have kept count of how many times a book has circulated. It's not as if this is a new-fangled thing with online library catalogs. That alone diminishes his credibility.

I had a discussion about this article with one of the law librarians at work. She took the side of the author, saying that taxpayers' money shouldn't pay for the entertainment of the middle class. First, the middle class aren't the only ones who take advantage of the local library. A public library is there for the community, period - rich, middle, poor. If rich people have elsewhere to spend their money than buying books off of Amazon, then good for them - they are welcome to use the library. The disadvantaged use the library as a refuge and a place of improvement - I saw many poor or immigrant people searching for jobs via internet or newspaper when they couldn't afford a computer or the 10+ copies of the Sunday newspapers. The library exists to serve all.

Just because books are more accessible than they have been throughout history doesn't mean that the average reader wants to purchase $2,400 worth of books each year. I go through 2 hardback books, at least, per week, and that's how much it would cost me. Economically speaking, libraries benefit the taxpayers because of the collective pool of money that can be used for the greater (and personal!) good. In other words, I would rather pay $300 per year in taxes as opposed to $2,400 for books.

He completely ignored that libraries are present in communities for reasons in addition to reading. Libraries are cultural hubs for concerts, presentations, and lectures. Libraries provide top-quality research through reference collections and databases. To say that they should be closed simply because they are going towards popular collections is omitting 2/3 of the services that libraries provide.

I'm so firing off a letter to the WSJ editor.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Dewey Donate? Yes, We Should!

News article on the Dewey Donate site, which is collecting donations for the Harrison County Library System. The system is located in Mississippi and was hit by Hurricane Katrina, who very meanly put several libraries' collections under water and mud. (As of this writing, the system's web site contained a picture of their bookmobile with what looks to be a pole through the front windshield.) Check out the donors map, made courtesy of Frappr. Choose from 8 different libraries' Amazon wish lists and away you go... a warm fuzzy for helping libraries in dire need. Publishers should step up to the plate, too, and donate reference materials to those collections damaged by the hurricane.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Hug Your Librarian

I love linking to positive marketing and reports like this one on the MSN Encarta site. Librarians are often self-contained to a fault - we laud our accomplishments within the industry, but oftentimes don't (or can't) publish them for the whole world to see. In this case, it's a non-librarian providing very practical advice on how to squeeze the best out of your local library. Now, if ALA will just create a commercial for network TV...

Long Overdue

"Long Overdue: A Fresh Look at Public Attitudes About Libraries in the 21st Century" reports the results of a national study of the general public as well as interviews with national and local civic leaders (see methodology below). This multi-level public opinion study identifies a troubling issue for library advocates: While Americans give their public libraries an "A" more often than any other community service asked about (45% give libraries an "A") and a large majority of the public (71%) says their local library uses public money well, few Americans are aware of the increasingly tenuous financial picture faced by many libraries.
Take a look at the full 84-page report.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Podcasting, Take One!

Our library signed up to participate in OPAL - Online Programming for All Libraries. A subscription means that we can both listen to the real-time or archived podcasts, but also offer some of our own. Last Tuesday, with the help of my brave colleagues Jane and Jill, I recorded my Introduction to eBay program. The only hitch was when we realized that closing the door of the conference room blocks the wireless signal... but that was quickly, and easily, fixed once it dawned on us why the computer kept losing the connection. The program is in the OPAL archives. Our Reader's Services department will also be offering a booktalk program on OPAL in the near future.

OPAL will also be the host to the state-wide discussion of the Kite Runner. "The One State One Listen program of ListenIllinois brings together library patrons from across Illinois in an online, virtual, audio ebook discussion."

OPAL is a growing entity and a very easy way to offer programs to patrons who don't want to visit or can't make it to the library. The technology that it utilizes is very simple - all the library needs is a microphone ($10 at a retailer), computer and a couple of staff members who don't mind having their voices recorded. All the patron requires is a computer, speaker or headphones, and if they want to speak, a microphone.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Librarians in Leather

...riding leather, that is. I just fulfilled a life-long dream to obtain my M-class license. My father, a former competitive trials rider, taught me how to ride off-road motorcycles from the time I was eleven years old until I moved away from home at 24. A few weekends ago, my father-in-law and I completed the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course, which teaches you how to ride more safely on the road. It rained the entire weekend, so needless to say, none of us knew how to brake on dry pavement when the sun finally came out!

It seems that I am not alone in my love of both motorcycles and librarianship - check out the MotoFemina blog. One of the contributors, Laura, is a librarian at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Motorcycling is a controversial hobby. Many people think it's risky. Indeed it is, but I would rather take the risk and love life than to live it so safely as to miss out on the incredible experience of riding a motorcycle. Maybe I'll start my own Dewey's Angels riding group.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A+ in Penmanship

No wonder librarians were judged on their handwriting skills at one time... Thank God for automation.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Earth Day Irony

I have to be honest and say the last time I really paid attention to Earth Day was somewhere around 1992. (Earth Day was April 22nd this year). However, living with less and taking better care of our world really struck me this week. It's Spring Clean-Out around town, which means everyone purges their basement and garage junk to the curb to be picked up and hauled to the dump. I've seen all the stuff multiply during my 10-minute commute to work each day through the neighborhoods - TVs, baby strollers in perfect condition, broken chairs, plumbing supplies, 1970s front doors. Old wicker furniture seems to be particularly popular, sunfaded and scratchy.

What really comes to mind is that we have the ability to stop all this stuff before it even gets into our homes. Shop less, live with less, stress less. This is a big revelation for a girl who enjoys spending free time at Ann Taylor Loft and Anthropologie. But more and more I'm realizing what an empty perusal more stuff, more stuff is. Others are on the same track as a rebellion against too many things - Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine; those dedicated participants of Craig's List (please, please come to Chicago); and the Freecycle people in your local neighborhood. Way to go; I'm using you all as an inspiration.