“well at least they’re reading” the role of the judgemental librarian in media portrayal of library use

So hey, we’re in a recession! And one thing that the media seem to agree about is that people are flocking to their libraries more than ever. In fact, just like “man returns library book 75 years late!” the news stories about libraries getting busy when people are out of work aren’t even that blogworthy lately. But people still send them to me and I still read them. Often they have good factoids like “During the Great Depression, not a single library closed” which I found interesting. That line comes from this article in the Journal-Sentinal Online with the fairly typical headline Libraries’ many benefits rediscovered in hard economic times. Good, right?

I was enjoying reading about it until I hit these lines…

Library directors report circulation spikes for last month of about 10% when compared with December 2007. “Escapism,” was Waukesha library director Jane Ameel’s concise speculation on the re-emergence of libraries’ attraction. “I wish we were giving them David Copperfield, but so much of our business is in CDs and entertainment,” she said.

Do you see where I’m going with this? This library director seems disappointed that people are going to the library to feel better and interact with materials that they enjoy. I’m disappointed because when I read that sentence I feel that the library director values Copperfield-reading patrons more than she values music-listening patrons. I’m sure she talked to the reporter for 45 minutes and that’s just what he decided to pull out of the discussion. And yet, I think we should be careful with how we talk about what we do.

I’m not sure I’d go totally over to the other extreme and say that a patron plugging his laptop into an external power outlet at the library after hours was “rediscovering the value of their library,” but it definitely sends a more positive message about how we view our patrons than the earlier quotation.

9 thoughts on ““well at least they’re reading” the role of the judgemental librarian in media portrayal of library use

  1. True, but it’s also a bit about your place in society — if the people deciding where to allocate scarce public resources say, “hey, nobody’s checking out any books, they’re just going for the movies and CDs — is our purpose really to be a free Blockbuster?” … well, they may decide that money might be better spent elsewhere.

    (Can of course be countered by both making sure that you’re *not* just a free Blockbuster and by successful PR — we put in a wii in the kid’s room, there were complaints (“is that what my taxes are going for?”)… until we pointed out that the book circulation for the kid’s room has gone up as well, as the kids go for the “how to draw manga” and often the Japanese history books as well, etc.)

  2. Thanks Jessamyn! I couldn’t agree more! All library users need to feel that the library is for them, regardless of what services (or reading material) they choose to take advantage of. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is knowing that I’ve connected someone with material that they’ll enjoy whether it be a classic work, some fluffy fiction or a movie for the weekend!

  3. Amen, this is what I’ve been saying for a long time. It’s funny because when libraries began a lot of benefactors sneered at the idea that there would be fiction books (as opposed, I guess to history). If we offer the materials, we should be happy they are being used.

  4. Right, Steve! What better way to encourage reading than to make it seem like homework? And why are these people surfing job sites when they could be reading the great masterpieces of world literature?

    It’s an interesting conclusion that someone checking out a CD or DVD is not also reading books (even if the person in the example isn’t). I mean, has book circulation decreased? The story implies that it’s booming. In my couple-weekly trips to the library, I definitely pick up and return more movies than books. This is either because I hang on to books longer (unless I hate them) or because I’ve borrowed them from the academic library where I work, or gotten them in some other off-the-radar way. I imagine this is true for many people.

  5. i also think that, for whatever reason, people tend to buy books despite the bad economy. people are not buying music cds (just ask the riaa!) or dvds as much anymore. they are seen as “throwaway” entertainment–people only want the hit single from the disc or to watch a movie one time. that’s where libraries are really helping people who can’t afford entertainment media.

  6. That poor woman, she must be miserable in her job! Does she feel that the way patrons use the library reflects poorly on her somehow? Is she somehow embarrassed by the kinds of formats and genres in her library?
    I am continually amazed at how much my patrons “direct” the library themselves by demanding more of what they want and just ignoring what they are no longer interested in. The perpetual evolution of public library collections and programming is energizing: how dull it would be indeed if the publishing world had ground to a halt when Mr. Dickens finished writing.
    Of course now I am going to lay awake and wonder if anyone is using our outdoor outlets at night and what does that mean about how they regard the library…..

  7. This happens quite a bit. It reminds me of the rules put down on computers, too. Several libraries/librarians feel the need to limit the amount of time kids or others use the computers if they are not doing homework and then give extra time to those that are doing homework. Then of course the patrons that are not doing homework are not allowed any extra time. This is one thing that always upsets me. First of all, I think it encourages patrons to lie and say they are doing homework and secondly it just defeats the whole purpose. It is not the library’s job to “filter” what the patrons are using the library for, it’s the patrons job to decide how they want to use the library.

  8. Me, I’m sorry they are not reading Mao, Marx, Trotsky, Chomsky or Sigurd Olson. Why can’t everyone be just like me. The planet would be so much better off.

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