Sunday, November 23, 2008

Obsolete? Not Yet.

An Australian columnist wonders whether book rental schemes like Book Swim will make libraries as obsolete as video rental stores - and concludes that they won't. Not only do the rental schemes cost money (and libraries, unlike video rental stores, offer their collections for free) but they don't have a wide enough variety of offerings, focusing instead on current bestsellers. But she also points out something less tangible but very important about libraries.
Libraries still serve as one of the rare public meeting spaces not devoted to commerce. They help kids with research and adults with job hunts and starting businesses and their own formal and informal educations. Libraries buy books based on both popularity and serving their public. They tend to fight the good fight to make sure controversial material is available. You know, good quality-of-life, bastion of democracy stuff.
She also recommends some simple ways that libraries could be even better.
I think with the right savvy, libraries are up to the task of competing with even an improved book rental service. Already, through inter-library loans you can get almost anything, and with my countywide system's online reservation system, it's almost as easy as Netflix to request something. A little slow to get it, but that should be fixable. Make renewing easier, with a warning system when something's coming due, and you're most of the way there for me.
And she closes with a final benefit: when you've grown weary of reading that same picture book fifty-five times to your child, you can claim that it's due at the library.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Don't Mess With Us

Mother Jones has a profile of "America's Most Dangerous Librarians" - the principled librarians in Connecticut who challenged the constitutionality of a National Security Letter authorized by the PATRIOT Act and served on a library consortium.

It's good reading, even if the title is a play on popular stereotypes. Dangerous? Librarians? How could that be?

But here's a case where members of our profession stood up to authority for principled reasons, and that made them powerful. And a threat to a law that was enacted in haste to strengthen the FBI's surveillance powers even as it weakened the Constitution.

As Michael Moore once said, "don't mess with librarians."