Saturday, December 03, 2011

Should Libraries Return to Their Core Business?

At a time when so many libraries are having to cut back on the number of hours, or even days, they are open, here's an interesting choice for library patrons to consider:
1.  Continue to add new DVD, CD and e-book material at the current pace by reducing the number of hours the library doors are open, or 
2.  Focus more heavily on the library's core business of making books, magazines, and newspapers available to patrons and maintain present library hours
My own library, part of the Harris County Library system, decided several months ago that it could no longer afford to offer its services on Sundays, a decision that has caused me problems ever since - yet it continues to stuff its shelves with the latest movies and pop music.  If money is so tight that the system can no longer support the costs of keeping its branches open for the few hours they used to be open on Sundays, whey continue to throw money at what is, more times than not, just junk?

According to the Toronto News, that city's budget chief is asking the same question:
“Should the city library become a Blockbuster?” Del Grande said. “Is that what we should be doing? Is that our core program or is that program creep?”
“Are we an international library? What proportion of our budget should go for non-English movies and books, etc.? The argument would be made this is what makes the city great, but I would dare say our common language is English.”
“We’re spending tons of money for ESL. Should we not have a discussion of how much of the library budget should go for non-English resources? And if we are to be an international language library, let’s talk about how we do that. But right now, we are a computer centre, we’re in the movie business, we’re in the circulation business of non-English language programming.” 
It's an interesting debate, for sure.  Personally, I would prefer to have my Sunday hours back (as, I'm sure, would those library employees having to make do with smaller paychecks) and fewer movies and pop albums on the shelves.  Others, I'm sure, would vote for the first option.


  1. Oh Em Gee. Please don't get me started on this. I LONG, LONG, LONG for the library of my youth (never thought I would ever have to say that) where they weren't internet stations with laptop hogs who crowd the place out with loud headphones blasting crap and random shiftless people who treat it as a hang-out as if there aren't even books in there.
    I used to get lost in the library for the right reasons; now I can't find a space to sit and read a dang book. I'll stop here. My nostrils have begun to flare.

  2. I was reluctantly nodding my head about the library being a place where people can upgrade their skills in their own language, but she lost me with “There are many low-income families that can’t afford to rent from Blockbuster,”

    I have long thought that it was silly for my library to stock movies, even though I am delighted because I borrow them.

    I do not, however, think that is where limited library budget dollars should go, although if you take that argument further, why shouldn't people buy books at Barnes and Noble instead of borrowing them at the library?

    When I lived in Memphis, it cost a dollar or two to check out a movie, which seems to be a fair compromise. It would also make sense that the library only get two or three copies of a movie rather than a dozen. People can wait.

  3. Wow..I sound like an old-timer, but I have to agree with thecubiclerebel...I used to wander the stacks for hours; finding new areas of interest, discovering great books and authors. I, too, long for the old libraries.

    Here in Tucson, the library is more like a community center. Few seats, loud talking, lots of weird activities (video gaming contests). I love community centers, but I love libraries more. In an effort to be relevant, the libraries are destroying a cherished resource.

    I am in my 40's, but I know I sound like an octogenarian. Where can folks find a quiet refuge and escape into "new worlds" these days? Perhaps online. What a shame...

  4. I agree, Rebel. It is getting more and more difficult for me to actually lose myself in a book while inside my local library what with all the cell phones ringing, computers dinging, and children no one has ever taught to respect silence inside a library. Things have gone way downhill since so many libraries have adopted the community center concept. I think the computers should be placed in a room all of their with thick walls and a door that closes.

  5. Right with you, Factotum...especially when I see one or two adults walking out with a dozen or so movies each, If all they want to do is watch movies, that's not my problem as a taxpayer. I really want my Sunday afternoon hours back and it would not take a whole lot of cash to make that happen.

  6. Randy, what you describe is pretty much the case all across the country these days. I lived in London for several years and saw the same thing happening there, although they generally seemed to have fewer computers...and fewer books than the Houston-area libraries have.

    There's no public place where silence and privacy are respected anymore. I'm a good bit older than you, and I miss those old ways.

  7. UNBELIEVABLE!!! An entire group of contributors who know what a library was and should be.

    But isn't this true of everything cultural. Even from a positive point of view, objectively no one that knows how to sit in a chair and use utensils can fail to look about in malls, theatres, libraries, university music concerts, and even church services and fail to see the total lack of pride and dignity among so many people in all of western society during the past forty years. It all began with the social revolution of the late 60s and the slide downward has continued ever since.

    I can't imagine librarians during my youth looking up and seeing the tatooed, pierced and grubby slobs that use the libraries today as a place simply to get out of the summer heat and winter cold, sleeping in chairs that readers should have for their pleasure.

    Our library was placed downtown far from the middle and upper class residential areas but very close to the city bus station, the Greyhound station and the homeless shelters. We use only the branch library in our area and it isn't a very appetizing site much of the time.

    I'm just thankful to have had some years to enjoy city and university libraries before the socialist dream was to be realized.

  8. I've worked in a public library for 16 years and I was able to enjoy about 2 years before we got away from "books only". We have been having the community center concept pushed on us for years and if I mention that I miss the old days my coworkers look at me like I ran over a kitten. I totally agree with the idea of public computers in a separate room- along with the copier. I'm a cataloger so I don't see much of the front desk, but when I do the staff is always having to help someone make a copy like we were Office Max.

  9. The times are certainly changing at an accelerating pace, Anonymous...and not for the better. I wish I knew the answer to turning things back in the direction of overall civility and respect for the rights of others. Sadly, I think it's too late to put the genie back in the bottle.

  10. I don't know how you do it, Sam. Librarians, like you, who remember the old ways have to be having a particularly tough time working within today's atmosphere.