Rich White People certainly used to buy their books, by the yard, with matching spines so the library looked classy; I’m sure that is still the case.
The fact that the OP eventually caved to the wave of flak that he recieved about the post does make me feel a bit better. The fact that he was ignorant enough to say it in the first place does not. But as much as we try, we can’t educate everyone all the time in all situations.
As to the “other duties as assigned” addressed from another poster here, yes, some libraries are stocking Narcan, as well as a lot of services for those struggling with substance abuse or other social issues. Should this be a duty handled by another social service? Totally! Does that other social service have the funding to do it? Hell no, they don’t. My library system has about 90 wireless hotspots that we loan out because home internet access is a problem that nobody else addresses. And while the local schools can get grants to hand out chromebooks, they don’t account for the wide swaths of our county that don’t have reliable internet access. Librarians are helpers by nature, we’re paid to help people fix problems, right now one of those problems just happens to be people fucking dying.
Libraries aren’t under attack for providing these services, libraries are under attack because people don’t see themselves living in the same society as the people who benefit from those services. Even for people who don’t use a public library themselves, knowing that their neighbors do makes them more likely to support them. Libraries are under attack because year after year, we elect people who promise to cut taxes without cutting services, who then kick the buck down to local elections. Which is why I spend a chunk of my free time every time we’re on the ballot kissing hands and shaking babies trying to get levies passed.
This is what I am saying… most libraries are set up to do this kind of thing! They are awesome places.
But we never hear about how awesome these places are. We are getting screeds like the one in the story. Which makes the library sound like a place that only people who don’t have other options go. Which makes them sound like places that are scary and uncomfortable. Which makes them sound like places that they are not, generally speaking.
I’m not saying that anyone should be denied use of the library as long as they can follow the rules of the library. This emphatically includes the homeless. I’m not saying that libraries shouldn’t be helping people find jobs or teaching them about resumes and how to get a job. I’m not saying that libraries shouldn’t serve their communities.
I’m just saying that articles like this one are hurting the libraries by driving people away from them. If you hadn’t been to a library in a while, given how it is described in this article, would you want to go?
You make a great case for why Libraries are great places, and we need more people talking about libraries like you do. We need fewer people talking about libraries like the story does.
Particular demographics using the library has little to do with how libraries are run, it is a byproduct of the system failing on multiple fronts and then having libraries being the only public institution left that is willing to offer help. The problem is not public libraries, they’re doing great work and the scope of what they do does not need to change what needs to change is other public social services and institutions helping those in need.
I like to think of Libraries as the last place standing where anyone has access to the ideas contained in them. Where Library Science Professionals help people get access to information and ideas, regardless of SES status, race, colour, creed, gender, or sex. Libraries in my town are busy hubs for books, and other media, but also a variety of meet ups, book clubs, tech transfers, educational programs and they serve many segments of our town: parents and kids have at least one weekend event that’s fun and educational as well as many preschooler events during the week, for newcomers with ESL books and programs, programs for older adults including computer classes, there’s a Tech Bar where any one can sign out new tech like VR programs, robots, coding aides. People who think Libraries aren’t busy or important, just haven’t been to one in many decades. In other places, to serve everyone, you might need to address other issues as well: homelessness. joblessness, etc. And maybe for some folks,the Library is the only place they can go and feel safe and be their authentic selves.
This. As other public services get defunded, many of these people are turning to libraries. Aside from all the usual services associated with libraries, we don’t just provide information anymore, we end up teaching people how to use computers (which traditionally were taught in school or college, or maybe self-taught, or by friends or relatives). We provide access to government services, like FindLaw or getting a copy of your birth certificate, or passport applications. People use our computers to apply for jobs, workers’ comp, and unemployment, and try to straighten out problems with their various online accounts, as well as the usual send/reply to email, check Facebook etc. I am surprised by the number of people these days who flip out when confronted with online applications because a computer is completely alien to them (we have a typewriter, and the younger generations are equally nonplussed by it; I just explain it’s a keyboard where the screen is a piece of paper [some of our patrons have trouble with the copier too, so go figure]).
We are a safe place for homeless people, and people with other problems. A number of our patrons have mental health issues ranging from an occasional twitch to ‘should have a minder with them’. I would love to partner with some type of official community outreach to steer these folks towards the right places for help. Every once in a while we have someone come in who can’t read well, or barely at all. All are welcome, as long as they follow the basic rules for library use and civility.
Our problem is that we are understaffed and overworked, partly because we are forced to take on the roles of what used to be handled by other agencies which are themselves understaffed and overworked. ‘Other duties as required’ doesn’t even scratch the surface.
We are not anywhere near poor, though far from obscenely wealthy. Our local B&M bookstores get upwards of a thousand $$ of our money annually (Amazon.ca gets a hundred or so as well for self published or otherwise unobtainable books).
The Vancouver Public Library is where we go to make unexpected discoveries in random browsing, find out of print and rare books, read an enormous variety of magazines, most of which aren’t available on news stands. It’s a great place to take children and young people to open their eyes and minds to the massive scope and diversity of the written word.
The ‘recent acquisitions’ shelves beside the main entrance to the VPL main branch (lucky us to be a 15 minute walk away) is a treat not seen in bookstores for decades. It’s either the beginning or endpoint of our occasional weekend visits to the library that we happily fund through our taxes.
Every day is Christmas at the library
and the present I unwrap is
the world’s imagination.
This is a really great movie. It’s on the short side if i recall but i’ve always felt it was criminally underrated.
When I was a kid in high school I could read three library novels in a week, and I got 30 days to return them.
As a middle aged professional it takes me about three weeks to get through a novel (unless it’s damn good), and the library gives us 14 days.
You can renew them online, but the last time I tried it both of the books I had were already claimed.
So, I love my local library!
I’m surprised this hasn’t been corrected: Andre Walker is a writer for the New York Observer, a part of the Kushner Companies, owned by Jared Kushner. Andre Walker does not, as far as I know write for or have anything to do with the New Yorker. The New York Observer is filled with awful blowhards and worse, the New Yorker has other issues. The excellent CityLab article gets it right.
I have such fond memories of spending hours at my local library when I was growing up. I have remained an impassioned bibliophile to this day, although I am now also addicted to audio books.Hey Cory, I just loved Wil Wheaton’s narration of Little Brother and Homeland…but of course, YOU know how talented he is!
Weird bit of economics history: ukelele sales reliably rise whenever a recession hits.
Folks can’t afford to go out for entertainment, they stay home and make their own. And Ukes are relatively cheap.
This is an ongoing project sponsored by one of my local libraries–because in spite of what some of their critics continue to say they’re not just “big boxes of books”:
I love my library and use it often. Plus they sell pint glasses and shirts with the library logo, which is cool.
As a professional historian I travel the state constantly visiting a variety of libraries – private, university, and public.
First, TobinL, you mention being able to check out books from multiple counties because of your Seattle card. If you (or anyone else) are interested in expanding that and like to beat up your state representatives, Texas has an excellent program waiting to be stolen by all the other states. (Maybe others have it, I don’t know) We have a state library card, called the Texshare. With it you can check out books from any public or college library in the state. Yep, that simple. I only had trouble once, with an unqualified librarian in a very small town who had never heard of it.
Which brings me to my second topic. Public libraries fall into a wide range of qualities. Big cities often have the issues that everyone is speaking of here. I avoid the San Antonio main library. The homeless situation there makes it unpleasant. As a traveling researcher, I am not concerned with the community opportunities so I have no idea what kinds of programs are happening at the facility, but I am sure I would not want to walk my children through the facility to get to any of the classrooms for events. It feels dangerous to be there.
On the other hand, in small communities, where there is still a chance to find stacks of historical documents and newspapers because they don’t get weeded out regularly, there is no funding for qualified staff. They often hire based on an ability to alphabetize. It is more important to spend limited tax dollars on new lights for the football stadium. Libraries are open three or four days a week, four hours a day. Usually those hours aren’t even when people are out of school/work and can use them. They are at the convenience of the librarian, so she can go home when her kids get out of school, important for the individual but counterproductive for the community.
Fortunately, most libraries fall in between, with incredibly helpful librarians, doing a difficult, unappreciated job. I am always amazed when they turn up with just the right document or find a lead based on some sketchy information I gave them. Take your librarian a cupcake today!
Is there a chance you stumbled into a town library, rather than one that was connected with the Texshare system? As you noted later, in some small communities the staff is based on willingness to do the job, rather than inclination and/or an MLIS (Master of Library and Information Science). I know off the top of my head at least one tiny isolated town within our system that can’t seem to keep a librarian for more than a couple of years at a pop. When they (sooner or later) leave, the ‘librarian’ job falls to a dedicated staff member who has been holding her position for at least 20 years. She has been the ‘librarian’ for at least as long as all the MLIS-holding official ones combined, and does a fine job. Incidentally, there are at least a couple more statewide systems out there, including ours, with varying degrees of interconnectedness.
Well I have a card for each system. King County because that is the county Seattle is in. Sno-Isle because some tax reason that I can’t remember that allows me to sign up with them.
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