Public Librarian Responds to Shimon

I shared the discussion Shimon and I are having about libraries with Kevin, a public librarian. Below are Kevin’s responses to a few of Shimon’s points, posted with his permission. Kevin’s words are in italics per his formatting.

  • a number of small, reservable, soundproofed conference rooms with chalkboards and internet access so that 2 to 4 people can have a discussion without disturbing others

  • a cafe that serves coffee and snacks, to sustain long stretches of study and discussion as well as to provide a noisy, stimulating atmosphere for those who prefer it; and to function as a rendezvous point

    This would be ideal–and also costly; we live in a society that appears to be allergic to taxes; where would the money for this come from?; I work as a librarian in a state supposedly synonomous with education; and many libraries aren’t even keeping the staff or the hours they had a year ago, let alone providing new facilities. I work in a department that has lost 50% of its staff.

  • dedicated quiet reading/study areas where one can retire with a book or laptop and cup of coffee

    well, as long as the people are bringing *their* books and their laptops–and they’ll clean up any spills and pick up all the crumbs

  • specialized browsing-oriented catalogs:

    when I first read this I thought–has he ever heard of keyword searching?–that’s pretty browsing oriented; so are LOC subject headings. You click on a subject heading in an online catalog, say, “United States–civilization–African American influences” and you automatically get a list of every book in the library on the subject.

  • librarians should focus on a hobby or interest of theirs and develop focused browsing systems in partnership with library patrons and experts in the field; these could be done on a rotating exhibit basis

    (He needs a specific example for this to make more sense to me–but again, you’re talking about an issue of staffing and time; I haven’t the free (i.e. off desk or away from the cataloging department to take down the February book display)

  • Libraries don’t serve coffee. This is especially asinine. By comparison, Starbucks serves information (via wireless internet access)

    Keeping public use computers in working order (let alone clean) is already incredibly difficult; does he know what kind of damage a spilled cup of coffee could do to a hard drive–or a book, a map (especially an irreplaceable one like our 1852 Somerville atlas?), or a book on tape?

  • Libraries discourage talking.

    People do talk to each other in libraries, all the time. And if they talk quietly, no one has a problem with it.

  • can you imagine how great it would be to go to the library to see an exhibit on the greatest information in an area of interest to you, curated by experts

    Again–funding.

    As for a “mall for smarties”–it sounds like he wants to establish pay-for-service libraries. That’s an old idea (e.g., the Boston Athenaeum, the London Library). The whole point of a public library is that anyone can walk in and use our resources–people who don’t have the money for his “mall for smarties.” And one of the unavoidable drawbacks of socialist (I use that word proudly) institutions such as libraries is that they can’t provide what everyone wants. When you’re trying to provide services for large numbers of people you will inevitably provide people some of the things they want; but it is impossible to provide everyone everything they want.

    And I’m not sure what he means by being “overly focused on books” or why that’s a problem.

Addendum 3/26: Shimon responds.

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