Way, way back in the 20th century, American teenagers turned to the local public library as a great good place to hang out. It was a hotspot for meeting up, and sharing thoughts with, other like-minded people – in books and in the flesh. It was a wormhole in the universe that gave us tunnels into the past and into the future. It was a quiet spot in an ever-noisier world.
The library was a gentle mentor. It accepted us as we were and let us grow at our own pace – as teens are wont to do. It taught us about sports and sex. About fashion and finance. About life and death.
It showed us how to search for information. How to bring intelligent, like-minded people together. Even how to build and program computers.
This is not to say that Americans who love libraries—nearly all of us apparently—shouldn’t be alert to the threats to those libraries. The recession catalyzed several consecutive years of budget reductions, which in turn were aggravated by the automated federal cuts that came in last year’s sequestration, a particularly big hit to libraries, especially those in schools. With its library threatened by closure in 2012, one city in Michigan was left to host a “Book Burning Party”—a clever hoax that is credited with saving a vital community resource. Eight states don’t give a single penny to public libraries.
"Following on from my lecture in the Netherlands, here is a list of things that I feel you should be able to do in a local library. With acknowledgement to Thomas Frey from the Da Vinci Institute in the USA, who also spoke at the conference."
Listen to music
The rage is to compare everything in creation to a business. But be careful when doing so with America's public libraries. They are civic and service institutions, not profit-making corporations. A major caveat!
Just the same, in a library context, I was intrigued when President Obama once again singled out Costco for its success. It's delighted shareholders in recent years while paying hourly workers around $21 per hour on the average. Granted, Costco isn't your typical retail chain. It focuses on upscale markets (and bulk purchases). By contrast, public libraries need to serve everyone, especially the poor. That's yet another caveat.
Still, in Costco, I see a few lessons for public libraries in the digital era:
In its latest study, Pew set out to determine what types of people use and value public libraries. It compared highly engaged, "library lovers" and "information omnivores" to those who have never used a library, people dubbed "distant admirers" and "off the grid." According to Pew, 30 percent of Americans are in those first two categories. Another 39 percent are considered to have "medium engagement" with libraries, even though only half of those have used a library in the past year.
Library administrators are discarding older books in bulk, prompting a backlash from longtime staff members.
Library administrators have ordered staff to discard books in bulk. With increased funding for materials this fiscal year, managers are making room for newer books and as a result have been trashing older ones in mass quantities, staff members said. The practice, they said, has been rushed and haphazard — and not in line with the standard guidelines for "weeding," the term librarians use to describe the process of moving books out of collections. In Albany, thousands of good books that could be donated or given away are instead ending up in the trash, the employees said. They noted that while this policy is especially widespread at their branch, it appears that this careless discarding is happening across the Alameda County Library system.
"Everyone is amazed by the amount of stuff going to the garbage bins," said Dan Hess, a children's librarian in Albany. He has worked at that branch for four years and has been an employee of Alameda County Library for fourteen years. "It's like forty years and forty different brains thinking what should be in the library [are being] swept away in two months," he said. "We're having this infusion of new money and materials that are coming very fast into the library. It's pushing us to change the criteria for what we are discarding." Hess said that managers have directed staffers to effectively remove most books bought before 2001, with little regard to the content, condition, or other factors librarians would typically take into consideration. "All you have left is the new. To me, that is not a library."
There is an announcement in the March 11, Federal Register for - Notice of public hearing; request
The U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services is holding a public hearing, ‘‘Libraries and Broadband: Urgency and Impact,’’ to examine the need for high speed broadband in America’s libraries. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is charged with advising the President and Congress about the library, museum and
information service needs of the American public.
DATES: Public Hearing: April 17, 2014,
9:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. Requests to
Participate: Submit requests to
participate at the meeting by March 24,
2014. Written Comments: Written
comments received by May 1, 2014 will
be part of the record.
See full notice here.
The Women's Library, the oldest and most extensive collection on women's history in Europe, is about to open its doors again in what campaigners hope will be a permanent home, after almost a century of repeatedly having to pack up and move a unique archive of books, letters, diaries, magazines, protest banners, pamphlets and photographs.
Although the London School of Economics, whose founders shared many of the radical ideals of the women who started the library, has pledged to care for the collection and keep it open to members of the public as well as academics, the move was bitterly contentious to some.
"You have come across them in your city, town or village — cramped, dusty and poorly lit buildings with racks of tattered, hard-bound books no one seems interested in. Short of staff and new publications, these public libraries can count themselves lucky if they can attract a handful of readers looking for the day’s newspapers. The Union culture ministry now plans to upgrade at least the top 10 per cent among the country’s 54,000-odd public libraries, most of which seem to be on their deathbed. First, it wants to start a nationwide survey of about 5,000 of these libraries — the bigger and better ones."