If Libraries Operated like Health Insurance…

As the title of the post implies, I got to thinking the other night about that. With all the talk about health insurance reform, I think libraries are poised to consider long term changes to how we approach the patron interaction. Some of these are silly, some are relevant, others are perhaps thoughtful, but I think one or two are real questions for libraries looking ahead. (I’ll let you guess which ones I think are the real deal.)

Would people have to pick borrowing plans? Would these borrowing plans be based on tax/levy contribution? Or the ability of neighbors to band together and negotiate services? Would libraries provide service to only those who pay taxes?

Would dyslexics be denied a library card because they had a pre-existing condition? Or people who are illiterate? Or any learning disability? Or people who don’t know how to use the computer?

Would patrons need a referral to read different types of non-fiction? Or would a patron have to choose from a pre-approved list of subjects based on their library plan? Or would we refer them to a subject specialist?

Would there be a limit on the number of items a patron could take out over a year? Would they have to pay for the ability to borrow beyond their limit?

Image by a.diran/FlickrWould use of a computer be restricted by the library to a certain number of times per week/month? Would databases be restricted in the same way?

If a patron wanted to read a banned/challenged book, would they need to get a second opinion of another librarian? Would they need to sign a “informed consent” waiver before we let them take the book?

Would librarians need to get malpractice insurance in case a reading recommendation ends up offending the patron? Would there be a cap on the amount of awards for people who suffered emotional distress, eye strain, or the dreaded “reader’s thumb”?

Would patrons be restricted to only the materials that are deemed ‘necessary’ by the library?

Perhaps this is more waxing philosophic than hard questions about current practices, but I cannot help but think that some of these types of questions start us down the path to more meaningful policy changes.

Vacation Mode

Many years ago, my family was sharing a beach rental with the family of a first cousin who is very close to my mom. My cousin’s husband, Al, spent the majority of the day on the couch reading books while the Jersey Shore was experiencing the best weather all summer. It was a nice, hot July with perfect surf. My brother and I spent just about every moment of the day in the surf. But his behavior was somewhat odd to my brother and I at the time, so we asked him what he was doing.

“I’m in vacation mode,” he replied, his eyes heading back into the book he was reading. Such a statement has become a family mantra over the years as to explain any vacation activity in which the person is doing whatever pleases them at that particular moment. I think Al was happy to be lying on the sofa in a nice quiet vacation rental enjoying the breezes coming over the dunes. I certainly can’t blame him; as a sportswriter covering NASCAR, he would be traveling most weekends of the year to the various tracks around the country. There is a certain joy to lying on a sofa without an expectation for the day.

I took off this past week, a vacation that was somewhat overdue. I can tell when that happens since I didn’t check my work email till Thursday and even then that was to send a note to my boss about attending an NJLA meeting next week. I scanned the email subject lines for an emergency but didn’t find one, thankfully. I barely touched Twitter to the point where even catching up on a day’s worth of tweets seemed insurmountable. I emptied my Google Reader of all the political stuff, but left all the library stuff for next week. I won’t say the week hasn’t been completely library unrelated, but these are the personal projects that are fun for me.

At any rate, Kathy and I went up to Boston for the weekend (as noted in the ”The GIANT blog post”) which was enjoyable. I spent Tuesday at the beach with the families of my uncles on what was a perfect weather day. (Pictures below.) Wednesday I went with a friend to the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Thursday and Friday were spent doing not much of anything but yard work and laying around. Right now I’m waiting for my cousin and his wife to show up at the house. But this richly deserved rest will be the energy I will need for the week back. Tons of fun!

View of the Ocean

View of the House

Wednesday Night Deep Thought, Ctd

On the drive to the beach today, I heard an interview on Here and Now on NPR that caught my attention. It was with Ric O’Barry, the trainer of Flipper, who started the interview talking about animals in captivity (specifically dolphins) and how they are adversely affected by the contained environment. Basically, the dolphins do not thrive in a relative sensory free environment. It got me thinking to some of the general barriers of access that sometimes impede our patrons.

I felt inspired and started writing out the shell of a blog post. But as I sat on the deck with the summer breeze drifting over the dunes, something felt off. Then I eyed the crayons of my five year old cousin sitting on the table. There are some times when illustration trumps prose; this was one of those times.

Crayons are the original Powerpoint. Thanks, Emma!

So what are the barriers? What can be helped? What can’t be helped but possibly made easier? Those are the questions I’ll be taking back with me to work next week. Ease of access is not simply a convenience, but a necessary aspect for our patrons.

The GIANT blog post

 Kathy and I saw the Shepard Fairey exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. I had not realized how the “Andre the Giant has a Posse” evolved until I saw the exhibit. It also featured the Obama Hope poster which was cool to see very up close. There was one mural that caught my eye, Two Sides of Capitalism (Good), because of something written on it.

Never bow down to the system, change the system, or create a new one

Doesn’t sound like a bad idea when it comes to libraries and library advocacy, does it?


Idea Vault: Summer Blogging Program

Right now, Kathy and I are visiting friends in Boston. One of our friends who is a teacher was talking to Kathy about book selections for a summer reading program. The talk was about the choosing one book for the high school summer reading; something that would appeal to the all of the different age groups (freshmen through seniors). It just popped into my head: why not a summer blogging program?

Picture by churl/Flickr While I can understand the emphasis on reading of the One Book campaigns as it related to our main trade in books, I believe that we are equally well positioned to call upon the writing talents of our patrons. A Summer Blogging Program would act as a parallel to the Summer Reading; patrons of various age groups sign up for the program which provides a defined reward for writing entries (off the top of my head, I’m thinking teens could get credit for writing a 500 word entry on any subject, maximum once per day). Alternatively, a theme for a week could be announced in which people are asked to blog their thoughts, create videos, post pictures, and engage in creative expression. The types of themes or issues could be a variety of non-threatening topics such as pets, family, summer memories, and others that will not result in mass protests.

While I’ve tagged this as a Summer Blogging Program, it really is a shell of its potential. It could be a Winter Blogging Program (to run opposite of the Summer Reading); it could be a “One Blog [insert state, city, town here]” in which blog entries are solicited from the area sought; this type of program could honestly hold any format, really. The flexibility of user created content makes this as open or closed ended as the library could manage. (I’m thinking that, in a school setting, it could run parallel to writing instruction from English classes.)

The “downside” would be concern for obscene or inappropriate postings by patrons. Personally, I don’t see this as any different from a concern about patrons potentially viewing offensive material on a nearby computer, but it is something that would need to be addressed. It would require such programs to be constructed in a manner that would permit a certain level of moderation on the part of the librarian/library while allowing patrons to express themselves freely. I’m sure there are some First Amendment issues nestled in here, but I would rather dance around them at this time since there are many potential contexts for patron posts.

For me, this feels like a natural progression of library offerings. We nurture creativity with our computer and craft programming; this would be another step into the realm of online user generated content. Libraries could take this creativity and focus it in a community building activity; writing sows of the seeds of intellectual development and growth. I believe it would foster further inquiry into issues aided by the information resources we have. It also helps patrons find their voice, express themselves, share ideas, and start dialogues with others that may not have happened otherwise. Libraries can be the catalyst of the community for a greater dialogue about our homes, our towns, our nation, and our future. It is within our grasp, we just need to act on it.

Photo by karola riegler photography/flickr