Further Thoughts on the Morton Grove Public Library Controversy

The first and most fundamental obligation of a public library—of any tax-funded public service—is to serve all members of their community equally and impartially.

A public library cannot be allowed to take any action, nor take any official public stance, which jeopardizes or undermines their impartiality or the equity of their service to members of their community.

A Library Board should never be allowed to take any action that puts a public library in such a position.
Continue reading “Further Thoughts on the Morton Grove Public Library Controversy”


Controversy at the Morton Grove Public Library

I saw this article on the Chicago Tribune website today:

Morton Grove Library trustees rejects atheist blogger’s donation by Lee V. Gaines (posted on December 20, 2013)

This really bothers me. That the Board Treasurer is so ignorant and intolerant that she considers atheism a “hate group”. That she took it upon herself to act as the morality police for the community. That five members of the Library Board consider it more important to take this discriminatory stance than to accept needed funds to maintain library services.

The article makes no mention of any stipulations attached to the donation, and I confirmed that there were none—the Morton Grove Public Library wouldn’t have been required to purchase materials on atheism with the money, or take any action to promote atheism to the community. The donation was a no-strings-attached attempt by an interested private citizen who wanted to help.

Furthermore, public institutions funded by tax revenues are prohibited from taking any official stance on religious matters. To render any explicit judgement—either positive or negative—regarding the legitimacy of any religious belief or system is a violation of the public trust.

I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t say with certainly, but I would be curious to know if it’s a violation of law, too.

To refuse a donation from a private individual because of that individual’s religious beliefs is an explicit negative endorsement of those beliefs. That would make it an explicit violation of the prohibition against a tax-funded public institution from taking such a position.

I encourage all interested tax-paying residents of Morton Grove to petition the Library Board to reconsider their decision. I encourage the community to consult with civil rights attorneys to establish the legality of this action.

And please understand—this is not an action undertaken by the librarians or staff of the Morton Grove Public Library. This decision was made solely by their Board.

Frustration, at a Crossroads

This blog is stagnating. When I started it, I wrote about so many things—mostly about libraries and the issues we face, but also about… whatever I felt like. I always had dozens of little notes all over the place with ideas for new posts to write.

At this moment, I only have two new posts in the works. And the frequency of my posting has trended consistently downwards since I began this blog.

It’s not that I’m any less passionate about libraries than I was when I started it. It’s not that I’m any less committed to figuring out all the myriad things we need to figure out. It’s certainly not a lack of ideas or opinions!

It’s just that I’m tired of writing about these things. I feel like I’m writing and not doing.
Continue reading “Frustration, at a Crossroads”

A Librarian’s Thanks

More than ever, author John Scalzi is a personal hero to me. Not only because he’s one of my favorite authors, not only because he’s smart, hilarious, and—by all accounts—a kind man, but because he expresses the value of libraries better than I could ever hope to:

A Personal History of Libraries (posted on his blog, Whatever, on February 23, 2013; accessed via Library Journal on November 27, 2013)

Honestly, between Mr. Scalzi and Neil Gaiman, I’m just going to sit back and point people to them when I feel compelled to try and express the value of libraries.

Whenever people like Terry Deary or MG Siegler proclaim the end of the library and insist that libraries no longer serve a useful function in our communities simply because they themselves no longer use them, we should all respond with this quote from Mr. Scalzi:

I don’t use my local library like I used libraries when I was younger. But I want my local library, in no small part because I recognize that I am fortunate not to need my local library—but others do, and my connection with humanity extends beyond the front door of my house. My life was indisputably improved because those before me decided to put those libraries there. It would be stupid and selfish and shortsighted of me to declare, after having wrung all I could from them, that they serve no further purpose, or that the times have changed so much that they are obsolete. My library is used every single day that it is open, by the people who live here, children to senior citizens. They use the building, they use the Internet, they use the books. This is, as it happens, the exact opposite of what ‘obsolete’ means. I am glad my library is here and I am glad to support it.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I’m grateful for all the libraries in my life and in all the communities in which I’ve found myself, whether I personally used those libraries or not. I’m grateful for vocal supporters of libraries, like Mr. Scalzi and Mr. Gaiman, and everyone in my community who makes the library an essential part of their lives.

More than anything, I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve my community and make my living as a librarian. My connection with humanity extends beyond the front door of my house and I’m happy to dedicate my life to this fact.

Google Wins!

US Circuit Judge Denny Chin ruled in favor of Google in their long drawn out suit with the Author’s Guild over copyright and the Google Books project. Judge Chin cited Fair Use as the primary reason for his ruling. He also emphasized the difference between commercial and non-commercial use of works.

Google wins book-scanning case: judge finds “fair use,” cites many benefits by Jeff John Roberts (posted on gigaom.com on November 14, 2013)

I hope that this sets a tone for the importance and relevancy of Fair Use in this country’s attempts to wrangle and reform copyright law. The ruling establishes the public good as a crucial consideration, which addresses one of my major concerns over attempts to rewrite copyright law.

This ruling could prove to be a major influence for libraries and other institutions which benefit the public. I’m quite happy with this result.

Copyright: Not an Authors' Rights System

The American Library Association tweeted this article today:

Copyright doesn’t make sense to everyone. Here’s why it should. by Carrie Russell (posted by District Dispatch on November 12, 2013)

It’s a good article. It’s important to acknowledge that, despite the challenges we currently face regarding copyright, our system in the United States is far less restrictive than authors’ rights systems in many other countries.

By the same token, though, this article highlights quite well the problems that I have with many of the changes made to U.S. copyright law over the past decades. Namely:

All the major evolutions of copyright law in this country over the past decades have been attempts by commercial interests to change it into a restrictive authors’ rights system.

If these changes continue, then copyright law won’t make sense anymore.

More Thoughts on Makerspaces in Libraries

Make It @ Your Library logo
Make It @ Your Library is an initiative of ILEAD USA, in collaboration with Instructables and the American Library Association.
Thinking more about makerspaces in libraries:

My caution about makerspaces is rooted in my sense that we’ve turned to them largely due to this ubiquitous fear that libraries will become irrelevant. The fear that if we don’t change, if we don’t innovate, if we don’t disrupt, then we’ll go the way of the dodo. We latch onto all sorts of ideas that promise to prove our continued relevancy and adaptability to people.

But this fear of irrelevancy is unfounded. For the past decade and more, pretty much every public library in the country has seen their usage rise. The data is clear – door counts, circs, and the use of library resources across the board are going up. More people use public library systems now than ever before.

Why are we so concerned about bending over backwards to prove that we’re relevant? It’s clear that we’re more relevant than we’ve ever been. The data is there for all to see.

Makerspaces serve useful purpose in our communities (absent more formal vocational training opportunities) and that’s great.

But I worry that we’re jumping on the makerspace bandwagon mostly because we’re depending on them to keep us relevant. And that’s the wrong reason.

Libraries change by their very nature. Culture and society evolve and the needs of our communities change. Makerspaces are an innovation that offer useful services to patrons and we should explore that.

But I worry that we’re turning to them—along with other innovations—because we’re in a panic. That’s not a solid foundation on which to build a successful service.