Why Closing More Public Libraries Might Be The Best Thing (…Right Now)

Photo by bigoteetoe (CC)In Roman times, there was a uncommon military discipline practice called decimation. Meant as a way to punish cowardly or mutinous soldiers, it was a brutal practice in which groups of ten would draw lots; one man would be selected to be killed by the other nine men through clubbing, stoning, or only with their hands and feet. This ‘removal of a tenth’ punishment sent a clear message to the survivors: your actions (or lack of action) put you at risk for a disgraceful death. It was warning to all, a vicious lesson that the cruelty of the battlefield is nothing compared to the cruelty of your fellow countrymen.

With this emergence of a seemingly constant cycle of state and local budget crises occurring around the United States right now, this would be the perfect opportunity for the library profession to engage in some introspection. There is no better time than the present to engage in critical evaluation of the librarian as a profession, the public library funding models, the state of advocacy, and the current vision and path of the public library. I do not believe that the status quo of these aspects create a stable future continuity. This is the right time to get our proverbial house in order so as to secure the future of the institution in ten, twenty, fifty, and one hundred years from now.

Photo by Lorianne DiSabato (CC) First, there needs to be a philosophical shakeup in the librarian professional ranks. Quite frankly, let’s face it: there are librarians working out there right now that are poor representatives of the profession. I’m talking about the people who actively exclude a particular group from receiving their attention or service. For example, librarians who serve children and adults but not teens (as if teens, once they would advance to maturity, would magically return to the library). Or those who have no time or empathy for the computer illiterate or others who require attention effort. I’m also talking about librarians who are incapable or unwilling to try new things. Whether it is online services or a different way of arranging the physical collection, this conservative mindset of “This is how we’ve always done it” permeates and stifles any attempts at better practices.

Personally, in the future, I think that the main focus of librarianship will rest on two areas: transliteracy and customer service. For me, transliteracy is the best umbrella concept to the multi-disciplinary knowledges that the future of information will require. With information storage occurring in a multiple of mediums (audio, video, and written recordings, for example), the ability to navigate the formats will become a necessity. As to the latter, customer service is perhaps our most touted and most overlooked professional criteria. People skills are a sorely overlooked basic requirement of librarianship. A librarian could be well versed in every item in a library, but it wouldn’t matter a single bit if they lack the social skills to communicate this information with the patrons. Our jobs exist because of the people who come there, not the materials; otherwise, they could just hire a watchman to mind the building. I’m not aware of any library programs that teach any aspect of this vital skill, whether it is managing different personalities, conflict resolution, or other forms of social diplomacy. And this needs to change.

This aspect extends to our paraprofessional and support staff. In a nutshell, checking in and out materials and maintaining patrons records is trainable; finding someone who will act as an advocate for the library at the desk that most patrons interact with is not. And yet, we hire on the basis of the first part without much thought or consideration as to the face that we are giving the library by putting this individual at our most prominent position: the circulation desk. This simply cannot continue as a hiring practice.

With less public libraries around, it is my belief that there will be greater emphasis on the aforementioned skills when it comes to hiring. A tighter job market will (in theory) place bad and mediocre librarians at a hiring disadvantage. In turn, librarians who do not meet muster will be weeded out and replaced over time. Over a longer timeline, the profession can work towards attracting people who possess the transliteracy knowledge and customer service skills that will be vital to the future of the library as an institution.

Photo by TechSoup for Libraries (CC) Second, the current public library funding models need to be re-evaluated (and in some cases, restarted completely). Whether it is a dedicated tax line or levy, allotment of public funds, greater care and consideration need to be established between the library and those who write the checks for the funds. While this is not a universal issue in libraries (there are libraries that enjoy a good relationship with their respective local governing bodies), what is not universal is the knowledge or determination to establish and maintain this important relationship through all types of economic and political climates.

One of the lessons that I am learning in New Jersey right now is that the majority of elected officials do not have an ounce of a clue as to what the library does and how it impacts their constituents and communities. It is not a stretch of the imagination that, since they are voting for expenditures that fund programs and services for which they know nothing, they would not have an equally hard time cutting or eliminating such funding from the budget. These are the people that libraries rely on for the money that will keep their doors open. It is our failure to educate them as to the importance of library funding, the return of taxpayer investment in materials and services, and the overall impact on the people and the community. It is up to the profession to work towards better funding models by establishing and maintaining better relationships with their governing bodies.

In the absence of this commitment, there are inherent benefits to the restarting of library funding after being completely eliminated. While some may object to a complete loss of funding under the notion that re-establishing funding is an near insurmountable obstacle, this ignores the longer timeline of the institution and the greater benefits of (for lack of better phrase) fresh funding. It can offer a clean slate for the construction, layout, materials, and overall design of the library facility. I cannot imagine that there is not one librarian out there who cannot think of a library that could use a fresh start. The overall “feast and famine” years of library funding have a created locations across the country that reflect a mishmash of time periods and renovation expenditures. Personally, I’d rather have a library eliminated from a budget, return under a swell of community support, and begin anew than limp along with fickle cyclical funding and mediocre support.

With less public libraries, it will be the time to see which funding models thrive or flounder. These financial schemes can be evaluated and replicated in places that are looking to start or restart their libraries. Furthermore, it can create a chance to examine the relationships which impact library funding. In studying this aspect further, the profession can look at ways to instruct librarians (both old and new) as to how best to pursue their government financial minders. With perpetuity in mind, the profession can work towards creating the relationship that will result in a lasting funding scheme.

Photo by thelibrarygeek (CC) Third, library advocacy needs to move to a more consistent feature as part of the profession. The present prevalent format (desperate reactionary advocacy) should not be the status quo. It cannot continuously be an act of survival, content in the notion that the library get just enough funding to fight another day. While generally on a longer timeline, it begs compassion fatigue as the library funding needs to saved yet again.

Advocacy needs to be placed at the forefront (in both job duty and as a core graduate class component) as an active relationship between the library and the surrounding community. Set aside from the funding bodies (covered in the previous section), this activism seeks to maintain relationships between the library and active supporters (people who use the library) and passive supporters (people who support the library as an institution) [Otherwise known as my parents.] It benefits the institution to promote and cultivate this relationship in order to direct collection development and services, but acts as an additional system of political and/or financial support when the library/funding body relationship is less than stellar.

With less public libraries, there will be more emphasis placed on advocacy as a outreach approach, advocacy as a job skill and job duty, and advocacy as a more prominent and integral part of the profession. It is a shift from a completely reactive activism paradigm to a more proactive one. Without a renewed importance on these community relationships, the library as an institution will continue to dither, moving from one crisis (funding and public support, or lack thereof) to another (tripe existential “Are we still relevant?” blathering) in a non-constructive ceaseless pattern for a very long time. The activism that the profession embraces now as a larger core value sets the model and ground work for future librarians and their community relationships.

Photo by luzer (CC) Fourth, the current vision and path of the public library needs some prolonged and serious discussion. This is already occurring in different places at different levels, but even with the amount of communication technology present, there seems to be people missing out on these dialogues. Even then, there is emphasis on particular aspects (such as Web 2.0, specific forms of outreach to niche communities, age based collection development, and so forth) rather than the library as an institutional whole. This is the conversation that really needs to happen before those in the profession attempt to fill in the details.

For myself, I don’t feel that there is a coherent macro-level debate. Maybe I don’t read the right blogs or trade publications or have the right connections, but what I read and hear is generally wrapped up in keeping libraries running or trying to modify an existing feature. It’s not that these smaller talks don’t have a place in library discussions, but it seems slightly out of step. It’s like trying to value how much gold will be extracted from the ground without knowing where you will be mining, nevermind whether there will be any gold to be found. The question for me remains as this: what will the libraries of the future look like, act like, and what is their place in the community? The closing of public libraries should bring this question into sharper focus. And the answers, when discussed across the profession as a whole, should give better direction and purpose to those in the public library profession.

In my reckoning, it will take a catalyst such as the closing of more public libraries to reach this time in the wilderness. This modern decimation of our shared public institution should be the time to draw a new lesson: that it is not the end of the dreams of Franklin and Carnegie, but it is the beginning of a new era in the public collection and dissemination of knowledge. To step forth into this future, we must break from some practices of the past. If it takes the closing of libraries today in order to secure the future of libraries tomorrow, as painful as this would be, it just might be the right thing for the librarian profession.

Additional thoughts on this idea: The World Without Public Libraries

Edit: I added a link to the Libraries and Transliteracy blog, run by librarians Bobbi Newman, Buffy Hamilton, Brian Hulsey, and Tom Ipri. In their About section, they state that the blog is “a group effort to share information about the all literacies (digital literacy, media literacy, information literacy, visual literacy, 21st century literacies, transliteracies and more) with special focus on all libraries.” As I feel that this skillset will become vital to the profession in the future, please check out their blog. It has some great posts; for certain, they are food for thought and you may just end up learning something new.

34 thoughts on “Why Closing More Public Libraries Might Be The Best Thing (…Right Now)

  1. I disagree on many points here. For one you need to understand how public libraries were originally formed, not by governments or Carnegie, but Women’s clubs and people who cared about their community. Furthermore, those losing their jobs aren’t the cranky dinosaurs, but the fresh shoots. Just as we are going to make progress those are the ones that lose their jobs. I’d use a person in paticular as an example, but I won’t. Also, you do need a seperate property tax that politicians can’t touch. They do that in many states and in California. It needs to be more, but right now everyone is getting hit hard it isn’t just libraries. I agree with you about the lack of leadership. Many directors just rested on their laurels and didn’t do enough when things were good, thusly their predicaments are worse than others. I will add more, but should think about this more. 

  2. Although I’ve worked in an academic library most of my career, I did start out working in the largest public library system in the country. So, I do relate. And besides, an academic library is really just the public library of the university community. That being said, I have a few relevant (I hope) comments:

    1) As a library school student at the University of Pittsburgh in the mid-90s, we were all REQUIRED to take a class called “Behavioral Perspectives of Librarianship” which was taught by a psychology professor and dealt specifically with how to deal with patrons, bosses, employees, etc. They also taught these kinds of skills in the library management classes I took at Pitt. Maybe this has changed in the last few years, and I can definitely see how that might be with a lot of programs moving online, but a decade and a half ago (wow! has it really been that long?), these skills were taught. At least at Pitt.

    2) Closing libraries, and other public services, are good for a community and the services that are being closed or cut. Why? Calll it the “Cinderella Principle”….”Don’t Know What You Got ‘Till It’s Gone”. This past year, we’ve had to slash hours, cut database subscriptions, and bought almost no physical materials at all. The university community almost rioted. There were articles in the school newspaper decrying the cuts. In protest of the shorter hours, students literally chained themselves to a service desk at the new, earlier closing time. I received more angry emails from students and faculty complaining about our lack of resources in this last year than I did in my previous 9 years at this institution. A lot more people today know what their library provides for them then they did at this time last year. That’s a good thing.

    3) As for the big picture, I kind of disagree with you. I actually think we’re moving in a direction where it’s more about the collection than ever before. Libraries are more and more going to be about providing the very expensive materials that people can’t get for free online. The databases with reference resources and periodical articles.
    And this is what we should be emphasizing in our outreach and advocacy. We exist to provide you with access to materials you otherwise would not have access to.

    4) Finally, I think the role of the professional librarian is going to be about making these resources accessible in a behind-the-scenes kind of way, rather than with a lot of interaction with patrons. The public’s interaction with library staff will be more about technical support with computer problems or with just checking out materials (all the more reason for para-professionals to have good customer service skills). I think the traditional sit-at-the-desk reference librarian might be going the way of the cataloger. The average librarian is going to be more of a hybrid reference/systems/bibliographer librarian.

    • First, thanks for taking time to write out your comments.

      (1) I would love to see that in more programs. While I felt the program at Clarion prepared me for librarianship more compared to other programs, to have a class like that would have been a real boon. The management course does not go into personnel management in a meaningful way; it talks about the logistics in the absence of personalities. This is good on paper, but it tends to fall apart in practice.

      (2) This is one of the main points that I wanted to make in the post, though I was not explicit in saying so. It might take a demonstration of being without services to force people to consider the role of the library in the community. This consideration could cut both ways: one in favor of funding, the other against it. Obviously, the profession would hope for the former, but to be unaccepting of the latter is to deny reality and opportunities to learn and improve.

      (3) I think this is a common ‘chicken and the egg’ sort of dilemma. Can you have a collection without patrons to use it, or can you have patrons without a collection for them to use? I’m sure we could argue cases that go both ways for that. It’s a finely tuned balancing act, for certain. My emphasis on the patron derives more from the marketing of the library in looking to make it a customer experience worth coming back to again and again. The collection might attract the people, but the people are the ones who use it and pay the taxes/donations to support it. I see them as more of a central figure in the conversation.

      (4) An excellent prediction, although I’m not sure I’m completely with you. I think there could be a shift to more off-the-floor sort of positions, but I do think that there is an expectation as to having a librarian available at any given point in time. It might mean the end of the reference desk, but I think there will still be a physical presence on the floor.

      • You’d be amazed at how many of our users ask reference questions through our IM and Questionpoint’s 24/7 chat reference services. Of course, one needs a computer to use it, and that may be a big difference between public and academic libraries, since access to computers is not a problem most college students face.

        As more of of our students do their research from home or in computer labs, the more we’ve had to emphasize our electronic presence. We even have an IM widget embedded in our Ebsco databases. We’ve also had to make our library web guides and search interfaces much more user friendly. This is kind of the “behind the scenes” approach that I’m referring to. We’re making it easier than ever for our patrons to use the library’s resources, they just don’t know all the work that goes on behind the scenes to make it that easy.

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    • Take a moment to read this. It’s a good post about how schools churn out librarians without too much thought to placement or job opportunities.

  4. While it sounds progressive to say ‘Let’s start over and do it better next time.’ it ignores one fundamental principle in that ‘nature abhors a vacuum’, and especially in a capitalist economy! At a time when libraries are already challenged in the marketplace by “large ubiquitous sites like Amazon, Google and Wikipedia” (as Kathryn Greenhill called them in “Getting deeply local at our libraries”), and in their local community by applications of new and rapidly evolving technology in library services, and the rapidly changing capabilities of Digital Natives as library patrons, it hardly seems like a sound strategy to jump from the accelerating train.

    “Who’s driving this train?” is as common a complaint as “Who’s stupid idea was this?”, which implies to me that someone needs to step up and say “We’ll drive this train!” – that someone being the librarian profession. Nobody ever contributed to or even had a voice in change by quitting. And while there is nothing more challenging than trying to jump onto a speeding train, somebody has to do it if it is ever going to stay on track and arrive safely at a destination of our choosing – the 21st Century library created by the 21st Century librarians.

    In my experience with library directors and staff from all sizes of communities across my state, I have found no more imaginative, creative and dedicated professionals (and I have experienced several different professions in my lifetime) than librarians – of all ages, not just the under 30 group. No doubt we have all experienced those few library employees and librarians who hold on to the traditional stereotype of bun hair and shushing, but to characterize the majority of the profession as such is naive.

    I could list some other old adages like “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.”, etc. (and I’m sure the younger generations would have no clue where such sayings came from) that I think might be applicable to your suggested approach to fixing the problems, but it simply is not practical, advantageous or wise to start all over again. I have serious empathy for the 65% of staff from PLCMC that will lose their jobs because the library’s budget was cut about 50%. And, I seriously doubt that the citizens of Mecklenburg County think they are better off with only eight regional locations, as opposed to the 24 local branches they used to frequent. If advocacy was the only solution, PLCMC would still be operating at full steam.

    There have to be better solutions that will require a lot of foreward thinking work by a lot of professionals, including ALA, PLA and library schools, as compared to an ‘all or nothing’ approach that will only put public libraries further behind in reaching that 21st Century library goal. (We’re already far enough behind school and academic libraries in addressing the technology, education reform and societal changes we all face.) Throwing in the towel is not a solution, because the speeding train NEVER stops.

    • Nature may abhor a vacuum, but it certainly does not have a high opinion of weak or sickly creatures either. A restart (meaning, the construction or renovation of a facility) could mean a new lease on life for a library in a community. It purges the old existing structure and could give it a chance to reflect the current and future information realities. Whether it is adding computers, sitting areas, places for people to review visual/auditory materials, or simply update the collection, it presents a greater chance of survival in the long term than to simply limp along under the current conditions.

      I don’t see any reason why a library could not be closed and re-opened. This notion that you are putting forth, that society moves so quickly that once you fall off you cannot get back on (easily or at all) is a bit extreme. While I would concede that government funding is not the easiest to restore, you are placing a library re-opening on a short timeline while I’m looking at it from a longer timescale perspective. Yes, you may not be able to re-open a library within a year, but over the course of five to ten years, it could get done. There should be no rush to getting it right and a restart or new construction goes a long way to that direction.

      Personally, I don’t think that the continuation of library services at any cost is a viable strategy either. It places the profession and institution in a position to be receptive to conditions that are simply unacceptable for long term development and growth. By continuing to accept half assed support and half assed funding, you are merely continuing a service that is not going to thrive. I think that there are situations in which it is better to close the library rather to continue on with inadequate funding, service, and materials.

      [Aside: One of the terms that is being used these days is "digital native" that I find contemptuous. It is wrongly applied to mean a generation that inherently understands and integrates technology in their lives, which simply isn't true. It refers to a time period people are born in, not their technology ability. Digital natives as library patrons as the same as any other type of patron in terms of technology interests and expectations, in my reckoning.]

      • Hm, I agree and disagree on the “digital native” front. I agree that the technology understanding isn’t necessarily there, any more than with any other generation (there may be more technology use, but not in a way that implies understanding of the back end — really one of the great triumphs of technology in the last few decades has been that you don’t need to understand the back end any more). But I also feel — as someone who has had a substantial online life & presence since 1991, but who is older than the people to whom the term “digital native” is usually applied — that there are important differences in terms of conceptualization of the geography of the social space (networks vs. individuals/groups/institutions), how social networks are used for information filtering & understanding the world & modeling reality, how privacy does and doesn’t work, etc. In other words, I think “digital native” is an important term, but it refers to social, not technological, phenomena.

      • There are so many contradictions in your arguments it is hard to know where to begin to respond. If a library is ‘simply limping along’ now because they can’t afford to revitalize with “adding computers, sitting areas, places for people to review visual/auditory materials, or simply update the collection”, where are they going to find the funds to renovate, let alone rebuild in this economy? That whole concept is a contradiction.

        I strongly recommend you have an in-depth conversation with someone in your community regarding the realities of government funding, and what would happen to a library that closed voluntarily. “Please Mayor, let us close and get our feet firmly planted in the 21st Century, update all our services and facilities, train our people in 21st Century skills, and then we’ll start over in a few years.” Who is actually going to do all this work and training during the library closing? Closed means closed! No employees! No funding! What government in its right mind would fund an organization that is not providing the public services for which it was created?

        Call the Director at PLCMC and ask her what she thinks about your notion of starting over. I assume you think they are in a prime position to take advantage of your suggestions. They’re being forced to close 16 locations and lay off over 200 employees, so they must be ripe for total closure to start over. Ask her if “continuation of library services at any cost is a viable strategy”. Seriously! Let us know in your next posting what she thinks.

        The moving train analogy is simply a mental reference to the fact that times and circumstances continually move forward, regardless of any single factor, individual or institution. The world and society will not wait for anyone or any thing to catch up. While libraries are closing to contemplate their navel, the rest of the world is moving on – FAST, at an exponential rate as most experts claim.

        Try thinking of life or society or the world events as a river, a rapidly moving river at times, sometimes not so rapid. You can swim along with the current, get out on shore and watch it flow past, or drown. If you get out on shore and try to figure out how to swim faster or better because the going is getting rough in turbulent waters, the river has moved on and changed to conditions you could not even anticipate so that by the time you think you’re ready to get back in, it’s all changed and what you thought you knew about swimming isn’t adequate for the future conditions you encounter. The best plan is to stay in the water, watch your surroundings, collaborate with other swimmers, and adapt as quickly as you can. Drowning is an undesirable option that no one would choose. All this said, it means that if a library closes to ‘get it right and restart’ it still will NEVER be totally adequate for the times and conditions in which it restarts.

        As far as “half assed support and half assed funding” not allowing libraries to thrive goes, that sounds like not playing the game because you don’t like the conditions under which you have to play. Welcome to the real world.

        • Steve, I said restart meaning either fresh construction (brand new facility) or renovation (updating the old facility). This is under the presumption of a “dead” library, aka a library that is closed. I’m not talking about renovation of an active library. There is no contradiction.

          Your basic counterpoint to mine is that time is such a bastard that there can be no surrender to it. That, once funding is removed, it is gone forever, never to return nor seen again once taxpayers get a taste of, well, something else you have in mind that would be vastly superior to a library.

          And I disagree. What funding there was can be again, and with the restoration of funding, let there be the revitalized library. I’m imagining this on a longer timeline than you are.

          And as detached as I sound, I am really upset that libraries are closing. It makes me sad to see politicians and locals see the library as a cost center rather than a community investment. I know people losing their jobs due to cutbacks, so it’s pretty real to me as well. But this post is about asking the uncomfortable question and putting forth uncomfortable ideas. What if closing more public libraries brought forth a real demonstration of what the library does for the community so that people act to restore funding? What if closing more public libraries is what it took to garner the political will to say “this is an important community resource”? What if closing more public libraries *now* generated secure funding, better community support, and political allies in ten years from now? Twenty years from now?

          Basically, what if a painful sacrifice *now* yielded a major benefit *later*? It’s a calculated risk, for certain, but something to consider. I’m not asking anyone to stop fighting, but to consider what they are fighting for.

          Insofar as your river metaphor goes, as many rivers lead to the ocean, one possible outcome is that you get swept out to sea. And then you are *really* screwed.

          • Andy I have applauded many of your ideas and posts in the past, which is why I among so many subscribe to your Blog, but you propose such a dangerous “What if…” that my life experience tells me is neither practical nor feasible.

            Can you give one example of any public institution that EVER benefited from going out of existence and then was able to return stronger and better than before? The public is SO fickled that they might just as likely adjust to the loss of their local public library and turn to other resources for their needs, whether it is books, or films, or computers, or quite space, or programs, or activities or whatever. Among ‘consumers’ the market abhors a vacuum more than nature, and some enterprising entrepreneurs WILL fill the voids created by closed libraries. Don’t think they won’t!

            Maybe your generation is known for being socially conscious and mine was known for activism, but times and people change. Public complacency is what got most libraries into the difficult funding situation they are currently in. What makes you think that is going to change? Out of sight, out of mind? Who is going to champion the cause of a new and better public library in your community? And, will that be 2 years, 5, 10, 20 years from now when most adults have forgotten what a library could be? Have you spoken to any government budget analysts to understand how the process works? Did you call the Director, PLCMC? I don’t think you’ve done your research on this issue and made a sound recommendation based on that knowledge.

            Sorry, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, because I’d rather err on the side of keeping my library, not gambling on a huge “What if…?”, and try to revitalize it, make it evolve, grow and adapt.

            • I can agree to disagree. I don’t think we (the librarian community) will see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, so we’ll just toss this on that pile.

              • BTW: There is NOTHING that I “have in mind that would be vastly superior to a library” because there is nothing superior to a public library – good, bad or indifferent! But, there are commercial alternatives that will take it’s place to fill the void. Guaranteed!

  5. “I cannot imagine that there is not one librarian out there who cannot think of a library that could use a fresh start.’

    Wait, what?

    • Meaning, a library that could use a fresh face, decor, collection expansion, etc. Everything up to and including a new building.

  6. Interesting thoughts, reductions do kind of remind the public what they are missing & to be vocal about what they want. Closing? I think it’d be too hard to re-open a branch that closed down. Reduce & buy less for collection, that will show ppl what some dedicated $$$ would buy them. But don’t agree w/your direction for libraries – a little more back to basics are needed – Reference, Readers Advisory & a good collection are the foundation of a good library, has been & prolly always will be. We shouldn’t compete w/businesses – we aren’t a business. Emphasis on what we do well already & that is truly what ppl want, in my opinion.

  7. The problem with librarianship is that getting the degree is too easy! Bad librarians should be weeded out before they become librarians, not after. Or they shouldn’t have been hired in the first place.

    • Once the GRE adds a personality test, I think we’ll get a better shot at steering non-social people away from the profession.

      It does conjure up the common statement “I wanted to be a librarian because I love books”; which is a nice sentiment, but it doesn’t address the immediate need of being part of a service profession.

      • Perhaps you are being sarcastic there :), but I don’t think that would really work. Personality tests often have an introversion/extroversion axis, but that isn’t the same as social skills. (I test pretty strongly introverted, fyi. Yeah, I know. No one ever believes me.) I think personality type isn’t important here; values and social skills are.

  8. I was at the ACRL/NEC conference recently, and the (awesome) keynote speaker, Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, was talking about her experiences leading the UIUC undergrad library. During a brainstorming session her crazy idea guy said, what if we got rid of all the books? This, of course, does not fly, but they ran with the idea, thought about what the library would be like if they didn’t have any books, and ended up with a real-life library with 60,000 fewer books and a lot more (and more flexible) room for student collaboration.

    The point being: I utterly respect your principle here of (conceptually) raze everything, start from zero, and see what the world would look like freed from past constraints.

    But that’s predicated on an assumption that the libraries, once razed, would be resurrected, and I see no reason to believe that. Dangerous gambit you got there.

    (I suppose one might argue that, if they weren’t resurrected, maybe they weren’t serving any real value, or at least not enough to justify the budget line, so the world as a whole is better off. Then again, I suspect that the value of public libraries falls disproportionately to those least able to advocate for themselves — children, immigrants, transients, etc. — which adds a special moral urgency to the librarian advocacy role. I think it’s hard to trace the value of a library and the lost benefits, after closure, might take some time to become apparent, and might become apparent in ways that don’t immediately suggest the library connection, which implies in turn a responsibility on the part of librarians to elucidate those links…)

    Enh, I’m babbling now.

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  12. Andy,
    I’m happy your parents paid for your education so you can tell us all how it is. When in fact you seem to out there to really know anything about the system. How is it in Mayberry with Dummy and Dopie? LOL I personally don’t see why anyone finds you or your openions of enough value to add their thoughts to yours. You do not deserve the attention you are getting for talking about thing you don’t understand.

    • First, I paid for my education.

      Second, if you are going to remark about how out of touch I am, you might not want to reference a television series from the 1960′s.

      Third, you used a “LOL” in a reply. The fact that is positioned right next to “Dummy and Dopie” really makes me chortle since I love irony.

      Fourth, insofar as why anyone finds my opinion valuable, I direct you to here and here.

      Fifth, thanks for taking the time to comment. I look forward to future trolling.

  13. Everyone brings up some good points. However, in my mind, I am thinking the best and only reason to close some branches of libraries is that we have let our customers become too territorrial. Librarians as a group do mix and mingle. They go to meetings, workshops, conferences, classes, etc. But our customers dont mix much. They stay in their neighborhoods never meeting people different from themselves. never smiling at a stranger or speaking to persons in a friendly way. The Council for the Humanities here in NJ sponsored a program on the politics of civility. But this ideas of being cordial to one another goes beyond politics. who knows combining neighborhood branches may yield new acquaintances or friends or a network of connections for us all. After all, lifelong learning does not only take hold in books.

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  15. In my opinion, this is all way off base. Let’s get back to the
    basics of what makes a library, namely books. Libraries are not
    community gathering places, they are not there to provide
    social environments; there are plenty of other places in a community that can accommodate these needs. To even consider, as mentioned above and as I have seen in person, that an upgrade of library services would include a *reduction* of books is ludicrous. And to even consider or joke about “getting rid of all the books” is just nonsense. No books = no library; it’s as simple as that. I go to the library for one and only one reason: the books. I don’t care about the librarians and the services they provide beyond the basic services of maintaining collections. I don’t care about any extraneous programs eating away at the library’s financial ability to maintain and grow its collection of books, and I don’t care about new library renovations that create some pseudo community or architectural showpiece at the expense of reducing the size and quality of the collection. But I suppose I’m just “old school” and I need to get with the times, where books just are not that important anymore when compared with all the superfluous and shallow “services” that seek to supersede the basic and eternal function of a library: a repository of books.

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