Stop Calling It a “Bookless” Library

In his critique of the new “bookless” library in Texas, Adam Feldman states the essential value of libraries and librarians better than I’ve ever been able to:

This Librarian Is Not Impressed With Your Digital, No-Books Library (posted on Next City on August 8, 2014)

I’ve been following the development and launch of the BiblioTech Digital Library from the beginning. I have my own issues with it but there’s one thing in particular that bothers me:

Why do we keep calling it a “bookless” library?

This bothers me all the more because, as best I can tell, the people who created the BiblioTech library are the ones who first decided to call it that.

Let me make this as clear as I can:

Ebooks are books.

They’re legit. They’re not “less than” or ersatz or denigrated versions of books. Ebook collections at libraries aren’t “bookless” just because they’re digital.

It does libraries a disservice to devalue ebooks this way. Our patrons want ebooks and we devote significant time and effort to try and supply them. When we talk about ebooks as though they’re intrinsically second-class items, it demeans the wants & needs of our patrons, and it demeans our efforts & our work on this front.

If ebooks aren’t real books, then how do we justify the expense of maintaining e-collections?

We must get away from calling this thing a “bookless” library.

Amazon Unlimited

Last week, Amazon launched their new Kindle Unlimited service—$10 a month for unlimited ebook & e-audiobook loans direct through Amazon.

American Libraries Magazine wrote a reaction piece about it:

  • Amazon Unlimited by James LaRue (posted on American Libraries on July 18, 2014)

And Forbes posted this deliberately provocative op-ed piece:

A Google search turns up many more blogs and opinion pieces from librarians reacting to this. As one might expect, the Forbes post generated a tremendous hue-and-cry.
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The Value of Movie Collections in Libraries

No one argues that essential titles from the history of literature should be in a library collection, even if they rarely circulate. Plutarch, for example: his writings aren’t exactly high circ but most public libraries have him in their collections, and just about everyone agrees that he should be there. Some titles are necessary in order to say you boast a complete and worthy collection. Literacy is more than simply teaching people to read—it’s also about teaching them to read well and widely. Complete and worthy collections are essential to that goal.

When it comes to books, it’s understood and acknowledged that certain titles stay in the collection even if they don’t meet required circ levels. These titles have a cultural value that trumps their circ value.

But I rarely if ever see a similar trump applied when libraries weed their movie collections. There doesn’t seem to be an understanding that certain films are important. If a library has a DVD of one of the foundational works of cinema and it doesn’t circulate, it seems that no one thinks twice about weeding it.
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Library Stories vs. Library Advertising

One of the most important tasks libraries have is to tell our stories, and the stories of our communities. To show the difference we make in people’s lives. This is the best way for us to show why libraries are important.

But as soon as telling these stories crosses over into calculated advertising for your library, it destroys the message.

Consider:

This past month, there was a video that went viral online, featuring Derrick Coleman, an NFL running back for the Seattle Seahawks, telling his story of struggle being a deaf football player:
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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.
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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.
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The End Of The Library?

I just read this post on TechCrunch:

The End Of The Library by MG Siegler (posted on October 13, 2013)

Obviously, this post is generating huge reactions among some librarians. There’s not a lot for me to add to the discussion on the future of libraries that I didn’t say in my post Another Librarian’s Response to “What’s a Library?” and in my response to Terry Deary when he suggested that libraries are no longer relevant.

In particular:

He doesn’t see our research resources, our literacy initiatives, our job search assistance, our government documents collections, or our social services. He doesn’t see our partnerships with local school systems and cultural institutions. He doesn’t see community use spaces and safe places to for people to hang out. He doesn’t see a champion of informed democracy and self-improvement. He doesn’t see librarians as curators of information, experts to guide people through society’s myriad information resources.

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The Problem with Summer Reading

So much yes to this!

The Problem With Summer Reading by Carolyn Ross (posted on The Millions, July 25, 2013)

I was a voracious reader on my own but I hated reading for school. It was never any fun when it was for school. I understand that reading is essential for childhood learning in almost every respect—but this is not the way to encourage kids to want to read.

Ironically, I never read any of the assigned books for my classes in junior & high school—but I’ve read every one of those books on my own just for fun (and because I think it’s important to be well read) since then. The mere act of assigning the book automatically made me not want to read it.

Over the years, I’ve spoken about this phenomenon with many people—friends, coworkers, classmates—and I’ve been struck by how many people had the exact same experience in school. Moreover—it tends to be the most well-read and best educated people who felt this most acutely.

When the people who love reading the most hate reading for school… that should tell us something.

Another Librarian’s Response to "What’s a Library?"

I love Rita Meade’s (@ScrewyDecimal) reaction piece to Michael Rosenblum’s op-ed “What’s a Library?” that was posted by the Huffington Post on May 8, 2013.

A Librarian’s Response to “What’s a Library?” (posted on Book Riot on May 13, 2013)

[With apologies for plagiarizing her title.]

Let’s be kind – let’s give Mr. Rosenblum the benefit of the doubt and assume he was honestly trying to critique the current state of libraries in some kind of difficult to discern attempt to help.

He still failed.
Continue reading “Another Librarian’s Response to "What’s a Library?"”