Friday, May 20, 2011

It's Not Free

I just read a very good blog post by Dan Zamboni called "In Defence of The Library."  He's not a librarian, and talks about discovering libraries while traveling.  He's a big supporter now, which is great!  I love his view of libraries as relevant and welcoming.  That's exactly what we strive for.  He's realistic about the position many libraries are in, and responds to Seth Godin's "Future of the Library" article saying that libraries don't lack vision, they lack cash.  Zamboni's direct quote is, "And you know what you can do with less? Less."  So true.

There are two things that bother me a little bit about Zamboni's post.  The first is his constant use of the four-letter "f" word: "free."  It's a big theme in the post, used in capital letters several times.  How can you write an entire article about how library funding must be protected and then call library services "free" at least five times?  Library staff do the public library industry no favors by calling their services and collections free.  "Pre-paid" maybe, or "No extra charge," but definitely not free.  We should be reminding our library users repeatedly that they paid for those services.  When they get their tax bill and see "library" next to $100 or so, it should be no surprise to them.  In fact, I love Brian Herzog's idea of displaying per-circ costs on library shelves just like per-unit costs are displayed in grocery stores.  Genius!

Here's my second contention.  I agree completely with the idea of offering video games, DVDs and BluRays, graphic novels, and other "non-literary" or "less-literary" collections in libraries.  Zamboni mentions that strategic placement of these popular items can sort of lure people in.  Once they see the graphic novels, they might move in a little further and read a book.  That's the part that bothers me, like the library's goal is to get people to read "real" books.  There are definitely librarians out there who are reading snobs and believe that there is some sort of self-actualization achieved when people start reading books (and not romance paperbacks or comics!).  That's sad.  It's horrible that a member of the general public - Zamboni himself - seems to believe that the library's main goal is to get people to read books.  We don't want people to feel guilty or ashamed for checking out movies or video games instead of books!  Sure, we care about literacy and lifelong learning, but that's why we offer book clubs, discussion groups, and summer reading programs for all ages.  We still buy books because there are still readers.  Good librarians will support patrons' individual interests.  We might suggest a book as a read-alike to a movie or video game, but we don't have an ulterior motive to make people read.  We just want people to know all of their options.

Overall, this is a great article.  These are just the two ideas that struck me the most.


  1. So, what then is the library in it for? Are we just a socialized entertainment hub? Is that what we do?

  2. Every library has its own mission and purpose. Sure, many public libraries are entertainment hubs. We're also community centers, gathering places, research institutions, places to get homework help, archives and local history respositories, and more. Each library has to define what its purpose is. I have no problem being an entertainment hub if that's what our community needs from us.

    I'm mostly interested that those who pay for library service are aware that they do, indeed, pay for it - whatever it is.