"Are Libraries Necessary, or a Waste of Tax Money?"

TalkLibrarians who LibraryThing

Join LibraryThing to post.

"Are Libraries Necessary, or a Waste of Tax Money?"

This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.

Jun 30, 2010, 12:57pm

Fox News: http://www.myfoxchicago.com/dpp/news/special_report/library-taxes-closed-2010062...

Continued from Twitter conversation, started when I posted the link.

Jun 30, 2010, 1:12pm

I'm sorry but 300 people in an hour sounds like pretty good numbers.leave it to FOX News to Skew it the way they want it.

Edited: Jun 30, 2010, 1:23pm

So, here's my contrarian take:

Many of the replies I got on Twitter jumped right on Fox-news connection. My Tweeps aren't fans of Fox news, for sure. Fox news is an echo chamber. I don't watch it.

But librarians and other book people can be an echo chamber too. I think it's worth contemplating that the Fox piece is closer to the "middle" of opinion than we might think, and that the "but we have the internet" argument is already strong and gaining strength. The standard argument that not everyone has internet access is an argument built on a very steep trend line toward universal access. That is, it's less true every year.

A lot of pro-library arguments are built on treacherous trend lines,* and defenders of libraries should look at the situation squarely. To take another example, B&N now allows you to read any book in their Nook catalog while sitting in one of their bookstore cafe—not to sample, but to read. There are limitations, of course, but it shouldn't escape our notice that the B&N catalog is larger than most towns' libraries, not to mention that their stores aren't cutting back hours.

Anyway, I just don't think the piece should be dismissed. Hateful as it is, it's a rising meme. It should be a call to action—both arguments and constant change.

*There are a few good counter examples. The argument that librarians help you make sense of the internet is one--it's getting bigger and crazier every day, as it were.

Jun 30, 2010, 1:18pm

2.5% of their PROPERTY taxes go to libraries, that's really not too much. They suggest this go to schools. I think ~40-60% of my current property taxes go to schools, so is it going to make a huge difference?

Edited: Jun 30, 2010, 1:25pm

You know, I sort of want to scream and shout about this but an article like this comes along every few months and the library world gets all angry about it. We spend so much time talking about it and getting all flustered that...ugh, maybe we should be doing something else.

By the way, my favorite part? 1900 BC!!!!!

Jun 30, 2010, 1:22pm

I actually think I am lucky that I live and work in a small rural town our library is a hub for readers,job-seekers,internet users, a kids hangout and a community center.The nearest B&N is 200 miles away and with the downturn in the economy I have seen a huge increase in people checking out books because they can't afford to buy them anymore.

I think it is very different in bigger cities than in small rural towns.

Jun 30, 2010, 1:25pm

>4 readafew:

My town decided to combine the two--to put a branch in a school. What a frickin' disaster. It closed in a few weeks. Parents didn't want their kids in contact with regular library patrons.

Jun 30, 2010, 1:29pm

I think it is very different in bigger cities than in small rural towns.

I wonder about that difference, though. Is it just in how the libraries are used? I work right next door to the main library in a smaller city, and without fail on Sundays there is a line growing half an hour before they open their doors. Whenever I forget that Sundays are the day the library opens after we do, I get confused by the way the line wraps around the block. I imagine it's the same way during the week - heaven knows the entire block's street parking is inevitably snatched up by library patrons.

But this is also the main, downtown branch, and I'm not sure if the regional or neighborhood branches get the same lines. Though there was a huge uproar this last month when a few of the neighborhood branches had their hours reduced because of funding. The protesters were saying that they were the same kinds of hubs as your rural town library.

Jun 30, 2010, 1:33pm

And what about when B&N decide to stop letting people read books for free?

We have a combined school/public library nearby that seems to be working ok. The difference may be that the school library is on the first floor and the public library is on the second floor and the public library patrons aren't allowed to use the school library during school hours.

Jun 30, 2010, 1:37pm

#8- I think alot has to do with budgets too the bigger cities budgets are in the millions while mine for what the city actually pays is around $20,000.I also live in one of the few states with an actual budget surplus and great library advocates.

Jun 30, 2010, 1:48pm

"B&N now allows you to read any book in their Nook catalog while sitting in one of their bookstore cafe"

Great. But I assume that to read a Nook book, you have to first purchase a Nook.

"the B&N catalog is larger than most towns' libraries"

Most libraries, even the small town libraries, have an interlibrary loan service where you can order books to borrow that they don't own in their own system. And how many Barnes and Nobles carry out of print and rare books?

"not to mention that their stores aren't cutting back hours"

But you have to be inside the store to read the Nook books for free. My public library still lets me take the physical book home with me to read, for free, regardless of their hours.

Jun 30, 2010, 1:52pm

I saw this yesterday along with two similar stories from Fox affiliates in Boston and New York City, which were both slightly more balanced. The Chicago one especially is more the result of Local News than Fox News, they love to fill time such shallow stories.

However, I also agree there may be a point.

I like to use my local public library, but lots of people I know do not. And even I use it mostly for leisure reading and not research or finding information. Yet, I think one of the most important things to be emphasized when needed to "defend" libraries in stories such as these for librarians or representatives is to focus on SERVICE and not THINGS. The things (books, dvds, etc) will inevitably change, but I think people should be much more aware of how most any library can help you find the information you need. It may boil down to $$, but I like how many academic libraries are bending over backwards to be where the students are, i.e. living 24/7 on their computers and/or phones.

Jun 30, 2010, 2:15pm

And what about when B&N decide to stop letting people read books for free?

No. I hear you. I just think librarians need to confront some of these trend lines. I would be the last to propose cutting libraries. But every argument has an inherent strength to it. Some are week, some strong. A number of the most important anti-library arguments are gaining strength--not just advocates but actual strength.* Internet access is more widely available; indeed, it's becoming truly ubiquitous. Books are more available than ever. In some cases, especially because ebooks are so library-hostile, they're becoming easier to get outside of a library than in.

*There are counter arguments, and even arguments that "scale" with the counter arguments. (For example, while internet access is gaining the NEED for internet access is also gaining, so for those who don't have it, it's more and more of a problem.)

Jun 30, 2010, 2:54pm

At the risk of sounding like I'm repeating myself, this is why librarians as a profession need to work on responding to such arguments in concise terms that speak the language of those making the argument. (To be perfectly candid, I'm one of those people who almost always speaks in a bundle of fragments where a sentence would do the trick.) (That aside - and this one, FSM help me - illustrates that point perfectly.)

Libraries as examples of government waste? Libraries do more with less funds every year. Name a single organization that provides job assistance, child care, tax guides, Internet access all at once. You can't, because they don't exist. Now take any organization that does 1 of those and look at their numbers. On a cost-to-user scale, I would bet pretty heavily that libraries are using the money that goes into them more efficiently.

You could make similar arguments when the inevitable libraries vs. police departments. Chasing down juvenile offenders is expensive, requiring long hours and massive amounts of paperwork. Giving kids a safe after-school gathering place where they can socialize, play a game or even (gasp!) read a book or two is a heck of a lot cheaper, and can cut down on future offenses. Arguing that libraries are a waste of money is penny wise and pound foolish.

If we can develop the facts surrounding these (and the studies are out there - see Stephen Abram's collection at http://stephenslighthouse.com/2010/04/06/the-value-of-public-libraries/) and use them to confront the haters, we'll be better prepared for these stories as they pop up.

On some levels, we're winning this battle on an emotional level. Looking at the comments on this and other stories demonstrate that taking potshots at libraries makes you look like a jerk. But the emotional appeal only gets you so far. Responding with tangible data will put the haters on the defensive, where their response will most likely be "I'm sorry, I haven't read that study."

To which we can say, "well, maybe if you'd visit a library once in a while, you'd be a bit better informed."

Jun 30, 2010, 3:43pm

Here's another good site for how return on investments of public library

Jun 30, 2010, 5:47pm

Having a B&N Nook, which I do really love, however there are thousands of books that are not in digital format. They are print format only. Not to mention libraries that carry subscription services of thousands of magazine articles through databases. This is not something B&N is going to have available. We need to educate our public that Libraries are no longer a repository of just books. Libraries are a center for Information.

Jun 30, 2010, 7:20pm

Yes, yes, yes--300 people in an hour is a GREAT statistic. And I agree with how funny it is that the article implied that we are ancient institutions.

I've had conversations with friends who think that the Internet makes libraries obsolete and I tell them that they are right--if all they want to do is look at pictures of "pretty ladies" and check their stock quotes then they don't need libraries at all. But if they'd like to look up old newspaper articles without paying their local paper $2.00 for access to the archives, perhaps they can get to those articles through their local library's Web site resources (not to mention the Chilton Auto Repair Manuals).

Jun 30, 2010, 7:45pm

"perhaps they can get to those articles through their local library's Web site resources"

I don't see the trend of accessing library's offerings remotely declining. Maybe the question should be- Is square footage the best place for library dollars to go?

Jun 30, 2010, 7:59pm

BN allows you, after you purchase a Nook, to read any book in their collection for free in one of their stores. That is, you can read the book 1 time for 1 hour. I think most of even the fastest readers among us would have a hard time reading a book in 1 hour. I read 50 books last quarter. If I had to purchase all of them, even at Nook prices, I can assure you, there wouldn't have been near that many. My book club meets at the library and there's a lovely art gallery. My Nook is fun and convenient, but if I could have only either a library card or a Nook, you can bet I'd go with the library card.

Edited: Jun 30, 2010, 11:59pm

>17 kivarson:

I'm more pro-libraries than anyone, but these arguments drive me crazy. The out-of-print access to books and periodicals provided by Google books—and some similar resources—is simply astounding. It's not everything for sure, but it's far more of anything than any public library in the world had access to a decade ago. Yes, not everything is digitized, but far more is digitized now than any library had access to before in physical form.

Put another way, if that access were libraries' creation, it would be the cornerstone of the keep-libraries movement. People would be screaming about how great it was, instead of pretending it didn't change anything and wasn't really that great after all.

I think back on my own research into American history at Georgetown. Georgetown's own library is only so-so, so I spent a lot of time at the Library of Congress, crawling through old southern literary journals page-by-page. Without exception all the major sources I once labored so hard to find and read are now not only online but online and searchable.

To take a simpler example, there was a time most average people could not answer simple reference questions without going to the library. If you wanted to know who Ponce de Leon was, or how the boiling point of water changed with altitude, or what a skinner box is all about, you needed the library. That was never the only reason for the library, but it was a reason. And—simply—that reason is dead and gone.

Here's the easy challenge. Pit the internet against libraries, refuse to learn from the internet, ignore other changes in the information landscape, pin your value on marginal situations and remnant attitudes, and insist that whatever libraries did in 1990 is of eternal, constant value. Make anyone who sees otherwise into a barbarian and wait for the inevitable result of being so wrong.

Here's the hard challenge. Figure out what has in fact changed, and what is changing rapidly. Understand that arguments like "not everything is digitized" and "not everyone has computers," though true, are less effective arguments with each passing year.

And then, in that light, built the library back up. Figure out what it does that won't be washed away over time. Figure out what can be jettisoned now, to save funds and effort for more effective opportunities. Figure out what libraries aren't doing, or aren't doing very much of, that can provide new value and new reasons for existing. In short, look into the abyss and start building a bridge over it :)

Jul 1, 2010, 12:03am

Librarians run public libraries, and public libraries are heavily used. Case closed.

When cities like Philadelphia try to balance budgets by starving the libraries (once again), citizens object.

Jul 1, 2010, 7:59am

This is a comment I got back when I put this link on FB I thought you'd all get a kick out of it as I did. I thought #4 was cute!
They made a question.....they should be shown the real answer!!! YES Libraries are more than neccesary....for so many reasons....don't most states have library levys? that tax payers VOTE on to keep their libraries? Ahhh I'm gonna throw out 5 reasons
1. Internet for the everyone including the poor who can't afford it.
2. Schools close a lot and the Library is year round.
3. The programs beyond books for families, students, children
4. Ben Franklin said so!! :)... See More
5. Great Librarians like Susie and my friend Patty

Jul 1, 2010, 8:41am

I am a little surprised that people infer a bias from this article. It opened by presented the arguments for and against libraries and then reported on their experience in one library. And if it is true that there were 300 people in an hour and most of them were using the internet then it's true. But it was also reported that the libraries collected revenue. I saw no bias, either positive or negative.
But the 'do we need libraries' is interesting because in the day of many of our great 19th century authors (a fan of that era, Austen, Dickens, Collins, etc) there were 'subscription libraries' - people paid to use the library and borrow books - it was in the interest of the library to keep a good collection and be up to date and even people who had little income to dispose of would pay for subscriptions. So i think it is an interesting question - if people had to pay today (not thru taxes but opt to pay for library use) would they do it? Could libraries survive if they were not taxpayer funded? An interesting question. Personally i love libraries - and its okay by me if people are using the internet because libraries are not just about books - they are facilities that have guest speakers and programs they offer homework help, they have a lot of the latest periodicals and they assist people from the 'pre internet' generation in using online.
And 300 an hour is great imho.

Jul 1, 2010, 8:49am

> 20

I remember reading blog posts on the topic, drawing parallels to carriage makers. They didn't feel threatened by the advance of automobiles, thinking that carriages will always be needed. They didn't realise that they were not in the carriage business but in the transportation business.

I listened to a keynote speech by Eppo van Nispen in May at the Austrian Public Library Conference. He was talking about the future of libraries. And according to Eppo van Nispen we are in the story business. I liked this approach as a basis to build a response. We have stories, be it in the shape of books, films or music, or help with discovering your family tree.

Another area where I think we could show our expertise is information literacy. Every day there's a new facebook/privacy/scam story in the news. We should jump on that and use it as an example for how we can be useful - helping and teaching people to navigate, evaluate, and do research that goes beyond typing two words into google.

Jul 1, 2010, 9:14am

Engaging in service competition is the wrong approach. There will always be category killers for profitable market segments (think Netflix). The dirty secret is that libraries are middle class institutions. The rich don't need them and the poor don't need them either (They only are at the library because it is one of the few places they are not immediately kicked out and were they receive some of the social services the US government is too mean to provide.). Appealing to the joys of learning and knowledge is wrong too - the first group does not like the public to know, the second group don't want to be librul elitists.

A library is not run for profit and it should not be. It is a place to kick-start other activities (these other activities provide the social return). Trying to optimize library revenues is like trying to optimize income from restrooms in a restaurant. Self-defeating and stupid.

Even allowing to treat this as a tax question means accepting their framing the issue. If it were really about taxes, wouldn't Fox and friends raise hell about the 400 dollars per gallon the US military pays in Afghanistan or the billions that went missing in Iraq? Wouldn't they debate why the US pays triple the amount for health care than the Europeans and have terrible health outcomes (A rich American is statistically as healthy as a poor Briton)? That is were the real savings are - which are of no interest to them.

Instead, they use the faux issue of taxes to destroy the few remaining public goods in the US. Public goods are goods that non-rivalrous and non-excludable, that is my use does not constrain your use and everybody is free to use it (no discrimination). That is the real issue.

The US is historically weak in public places and space. Everything is transferred into private hands that love to exclude others from trespassing (thus mediocre public transportation, sidewalks, public toilets, ...). One wonderful exception are the great 19th century city parks and the National Parks (see Ken Burns's docu). Otherwise, there are few places where the public can meet and mingle without restrictions (what happens in a Mall, depends on its owner.).

Libraries are one of the few places where citizens are free to meet and kick-start (even political) activities. It is not about books or even the internet, it is a safe haven for citizens (and specially for you, Arizona, non-citizens) that is open to all, free of charge (a public good).

Selling the idea of a public good to Americans, that is a hard question. The defense industry has succeeded in doing it. What is holding librarians back?

Edited: Jul 1, 2010, 9:20am


A few subscription libraries still exist. For example The London Library which costs £395 per year (or £200 for 16-24 year olds). The London Library does not cater for children. Other subscription libraries are cheaper but they do not offer the same quantity of material as the London Library does. Also most subscription libraries are now specialist libraries and not general purpose with a healthy number of new acquisitions each year.

On to libraries. When I was a child, libraries were part of my world. I was an almost omnipresent visitor often two or three times a week. It was quiet so I could get work done (I came from a large family and had younger siblings in a small house). I was a great reader as well and was given an adult card well before I should have had one. I lived in a small town with no bookshop. The library was the main source of my reading material. Even if there was a bookshop I (and my family) would not have been able to afford the quantity of books I read.

Jul 1, 2010, 9:39am

When our library started in 1907 it cost 5 cents to check out one book.

Jul 1, 2010, 10:33am

>20 timspalding:

I'm not going to disagree that Google Books etc is making it increasingly easy for scholars to bypass libraries. But those same scholars -- and to an extent anyone with post-secondary education -- tend to be pretty disconnected from just how different the general public is from them in terms of information literacy and information needs. Yes, you will need the library far less for your particular needs. But you're underestimating how many other unrelated things they do for other segments of the public. It's not all hard research.

Jul 1, 2010, 11:25am

>26 andyl:

I've belonged to two—the Boston Athenaeum, arguably the best in the US, and the Maine Mechanics Association Library in Portland, Maine, which is one of the dinkiest.

Jul 1, 2010, 12:19pm

I work ref in a bedroom community, and every day I wonder how more people here don't think the latter. Thanks to crafty sidestepping of fair housing laws there is virtually no one in our community who needs us; if they take their Jag to the library then I assume they can budget for a kindle, or a nanny for their kids. If they're downtown law then I assume they know how to google for a book review.

Tightly drawn wasps, full-blown, glaring at their IBD and all that. And yet these people still SHOWER us with money, even now. Like to the point where we don't even have space to keep cycling in new materials, so we just buy superfluous databases and computer equipment, staff ipads, trips to conferences that are way too overpowered for public librarianship. And then the average morning we get maybe 3 old guys checking the papers.

I look out at them and think, christ, why are these people paying for my relatively extravagant public sector benefits. I worry that they'll catch on before I retire.

Jul 1, 2010, 12:39pm

#30: I worry more about the fact that you have no books listed.

a reference librarian with no books? hmmm?

Jul 1, 2010, 3:10pm

>30 Ishmy: That's not surprising at all.

For one thing, arts and culture donations are always popular with that crowd. Especially the ones who think the poor brought it on themselves.

More positively, many people see libraries as a public good. I went through a ten year period of never entering a library but I still voted for every levy and contributed to fundraisers. Even when I didn't need their services, I was better off with the sort of community that provided those services to others.

Jul 1, 2010, 4:12pm

I spent 8 years on a reference desk before going over to the dark side and managing websites at 3x the salary.

Libraries are not going to win by taking a "we were here first attitude." Libraries (and potentially independently, librarians) need to understand where they fit into an increasingly electronic world. The skill set we have as librarians is incredibly valuable if you know where and how to market it and have developed the ancillary technical skills necessary to play ball in the geek world. I firmly believe that public libraries can have a valued (not just valuable) place in society, but not by holding onto the past. Barring a meltdown of the Internet, we will probably never again see the day when the average person thinks first of going to the library when they need to do research. Stacks filled with dusty books that haven't been weeded since the 1950's and mainly exist to fill shelf space because there isn't money to buy new books don't cut in a society where the middle class is largely able to buy new. Librarians that ushered in the Internet age and then stopped are irrelevant.

The public library needs to reinvent itself. Even in the electronic world, the hard copy book industry is not dead--ask our competition: B&N. If we can't understand why B&N, with its higher overhead, poor classification, practically non-existence reference function, and policy of making customers pay is beating the public library and can't figure out how to adapt our model to modern realities, then libraries deserve what is coming at them.

Jul 1, 2010, 4:52pm

#25 jcbrunner You have it exactly right: Even allowing to treat this as a tax question means accepting their framing the issue. If it were really about taxes, wouldn't Fox and friends raise hell about the 400 dollars per gallon the US military pays in Afghanistan or the billions that went missing in Iraq? Wouldn't they debate why the US pays triple the amount for health care than the Europeans and have terrible health outcomes (A rich American is statistically as healthy as a poor Briton)? That is were the real savings are - which are of no interest to them.

The idea is to decrease government involvement in promoting the public welfare as much as possible with the idea that the only legitimate function of the government is to wage war. We can't bend to that idea by letting them frame the issue as a tax savings plan. It's a public welfare issue and libraries promote public welfare. That's it pure and simple.

Jul 1, 2010, 5:28pm

I don't think it's right to consider library funding exactly trivial. A quick look at the NYC budget, for example, reveals libraries get 209 million dollars, compared to 222 million for the fire department, and 472 million for the police. That's not a trivial number.

As far as international comparisons go, while it's common to believe the US shortchanges and Europe lavishes, this doesn't apply as far as libraries go.

Jul 1, 2010, 6:43pm

>35 timspalding: The 200 mil. get you half a day worth of war on terra. Overall US library annual expenditure costs less than one month in Iraq and Afghanistan. The classic trade-off example used to be guns and butter (Given the current rate of obesity, this looks like Morton's fork, only bad alternatives.). Framing the issue as a choice between spending on police/firemen or libraries is wrong too.

For 8 mil. New Yorkers, it adds up to 26 dollars per person annually (compare this to your cable provider fees). Read just one hardcover library book per year and you are even. This is real value for money.

You are right that libraries receive less attention and funding in Europe (Vienna spends 10-15 Euros per citizen for comparison, depending on gross or net expenditure), partly because they do not provide such a crucial function in public infrastructure as in the US. Just because it affects US public welfare much deeper, it is important to fight back hard and early. The misconception about the public option showed how hard it is to communicate such arguments to the public.

Edited: Jul 1, 2010, 10:49pm

Framing the issue as a choice between spending on police/firemen or libraries is wrong too.

That's not what I did. I merely pointed out that libraries are a not-inconsiderable budget item.

That said, when you take responsibility for a budget you know that everything is "pitted" against everything else. If your revenues decline and much of your budget is bound up in things you can't legally cut--unrealistically high pensions set up by a previous generation of politicians who didn't have to pay for them--you have to make hard choices. Libraries are among the last things I'd cut, but I don't think cities and towns in a bad position should be unnecessarily demonized. Unlike the federal government, they have to make ends meet every single year, not overspend year after year and figure they can borrow it.

For 8 mil. New Yorkers, it adds up to 26 dollars per person annually (compare this to your cable provider fees).

That's true. Something is screwy then to my numbers, as the per-capital rate for New York State is more than twice that—$54.83 (see source). Cities are expensive places to operate—particularly to employ people—so I can't see how New York's expenditures would be lower than the state average. Perhaps the balance is made up from state aid and private money. (Note, however, that, nationally, state aid feel from 12.5% to less than 7% between 1998 and 2007.)

I don't disagree that libraries provide value for money. The direct value is somewhat unequally distributed, like much of what governments do. Participation rates differ substantially--the most common pattern is to have fewer than half of residents visiting the library annually. Some types of people use the library a lot, some hardly at all. There are, of course, substantially spill-over effects.

While libraries should generally be defended, it's worth noting that effectiveness varies substantially. My town, Portland, Maine spends $60 per capita (twice the national average), and gets 9.8 visits and 12.85 circulation per capita. The District of Columbia spends a towering $78.08 per capita—more than any state—and gets only 4.6 visits and 3.03 circulation per capita. (Bad as the numbers look, they were much worse—DC once got only 1.8 circ per capita.)

Incidentally, if you're interested in how your library stacks up, check out the "comparison" feature on http://harvester.census.gov/imls/compare/FocusLibrarySearchResult.asp

Jul 1, 2010, 10:38pm

> 31

Jeez, give the guy time! He just joined today.

Jul 1, 2010, 10:43pm

>38 lilithcat:

Ha. Indeed!

Jul 1, 2010, 11:25pm

#38 & 39: True. THAT account started today.

Edited: Jul 2, 2010, 8:50am

How does my library stack up?

Population 1.1 million
55.85 Revenue per capita
59.89 Spent per capita
5.92 Visits per capita
14.8 Circulation per capita

Could the lower visits but high circulation have to do with their EXCELLENT online ordering system?

Jul 2, 2010, 8:45am

This is how my library stacks up

Population of Legal Service Area:1,463
Total Revenue per Capita:$12.40
Total Operating Expenditures per Capita:$21.29
Total Circulation per Capita:12.22
Library Visits per Capita:4.10

Edited: Jul 2, 2010, 11:05am

>41 Morphidae: If you post, you might want to do expenditure per capita, not revenue.

It's hard to draw very hard conclusions about effectiveness and causality. Does Darien Connecticut get ten times the circ per capita because it spends twice what DC spends, or--far more likely--it spends so much because it's rich as Croesus, and circs so much because its in a ridiculously well educated suburb?

Still Susie's library is doing pretty well on gasoline fumes, as it were. Does the library really only cost $30,000? How could that be possible!

Jul 2, 2010, 11:13am


Population of legal service area-112,008
Users of public internet computers- 125,210 on 67 terminals. Some are repeat users. Max time per day is one hour per user.

Edited: Jul 2, 2010, 12:39pm

>37 timspalding:
Tim, is is not enough that you run a website where I waste hours of my time? You now have to start pointing out others where I'm forced to do the same?

I've been fairly unproductive this morning just comparing various nearby branches and now see that I can download the full datasets.

Jul 2, 2010, 1:24pm

>I can download the full datasets.

Abandon all Hope!

Jul 2, 2010, 3:07pm

#43- Yes Tim it really does and that is just what the City Pays for my salary & utilities all money for books comes from private donations you can look it up it is the New Rockford Public Library in North Dakota.
And that is actually an old one because I am open 35 hours a week now and just moved into a new library 2 years ago.I have a great community that supports the library .
Population of Legal Service Area:1,463 and Checked out 1,700 books last month.

Jul 2, 2010, 3:36pm

There is now a heck of a smackdown response from the Chicago library system:


Jul 2, 2010, 4:43pm

Yes, that was rather good.

Jul 2, 2010, 5:42pm

>37 timspalding:

I checked out the figures on the Web page you cite for the Chester County (Pa.) Library System. The population given there for the service area is only 1/5 of the actual population of Chester County in 2008. Until I receive clarification from the appropriate state officer (Ms. Brisbano), I wouldn't take the per-capita breakdowns with so much as a grain of salt.

Jul 2, 2010, 5:59pm

>The public library needs to reinvent itself. Even in the electronic world, the hard copy book industry is not dead--ask our competition: B&N. If we can't understand why B&N, with its higher overhead, poor classification, practically non-existence reference function, and policy of making customers pay is beating the public library and can't figure out how to adapt our model to modern realities, then libraries deserve what is coming at them.

You make it sound as though the public library has not reinvented itself and is a deserted mausoleum. What public library do you have in mind? This does not describe those where I live. Do you think you'll convince the throngs visiting it that they are wasting their time?

Around here, legislators get re-elected by thumping their chests over how much tougher-on-crime they are then their opponents. In Pennsylvania correctional facilities, both public and private, are not only still a growth industry, but we are even exporting prisoners to other States. The privatization of prisons results in the grotesquerie of corporations whose interest lies in an *increase* in the crime rate, as witness the recent scandal of corruption in our Luzerne County. Libraries in such an environment are a very soft target, and that's the only reason that their budgets are threatened.

As for Fox News, I wouldn't credit their motives with even so much charity as that. Someone up there is well aware that uninformed people make the best slaves.

Edited: Jul 2, 2010, 6:35pm

Someone up there is well aware that uninformed people make the best slaves.

Someone in my Twittersphere said that Fox wanted to make sure poor people "remained dumb."

The "remained" nicely encapsulates something about these hatreds for me. Your notion that Fox news is about slaves does the same here.

Actually, other people disagree with you for reasons similar to why you disagree with them. They have ideas--an idea of the good, for starters. They haven't made evil their good. They're not monsters.

That doesn't mean they're right, or that their ideas are not, ultimately, quite dangerous. But when you demonize people, and when fail to understand them, you open the possibility that your opinions about libraries as irrational as your hatreds. That's a shame here, because I agree with your opinion.

Jul 2, 2010, 9:05pm

>52 timspalding:

You have a point, and I apologize for my intemperate remark about this Fox News discussion, which was fairly balanced in the main, although wasn't the question it raised "should public libraries be eliminated?"

What would Andrew Carnegie say? Having made his fortune under the "free market", laissez-faire conditions that certain parties wish to bring back, he gave large amounts away to build public libraries a hundred years ago. Presumably he would not have done this if he didn't want and expect them to be supported by the municipalities that he favored with his largesse. One must wonder, accordingly, in what sense a newfound reluctance to do so on the part of free-market advocates can be called conservative. This is an example of what I wrote in my LibraryThing profile: the truly conservative position is the liberal one and vice versa.

Edited: Jul 2, 2010, 9:54pm

>51 Alogon: Some libraries do better than others. I have been in public libraries that they could close and nobody would notice. Far more often I see public libraries living in a symbiotic relationship with a small segment of their community and wondering why their budgets are cut. Then you have got Ishmy at #30 supra.

I run into too many librarians that think that adding a "Ask the Reference Librarian" chat box to their webpage is reinventing the library. Or adding more computers. Or adding community rooms. So let me ask: how has your basic business model changed over the last 10 years?

There have been a lot of stats thrown out here. I would be interested some different ones:

Population (already listed here):
Number of People with Library cards:
Number of unique people who have used their library cards each year for the last 10 years:
For people with library cards, how long ago was their last circulation usage (by year):
How many unique people have used your online databases (assuming that your login tracks library cards) in the last year from the web:

What are the demographics of the people who aren't using your library? What are their information needs? How are you figuring that out? What are you offering to them that should be useful? How are you validating that what you are doing is actually useful? How are you communicating? How are you measuring success in penetrating that demographic?

If your funding authority were to tell you that they intended to privatize the library system in two years with a subsidy equal to 1/2 the current library system budget, but the right to make money on new services and they want the current library staff to put in a bid, what would your business model look like under the bid in comparison to your current model?

Don't get me wrong, I love libraries, but too often I see librarians arguing about whether changing the handle on the buggywhip will improve sales.

Jul 2, 2010, 10:10pm

#54- What do you mean by unique?

Jul 2, 2010, 10:14pm

>53 Alogon:

Well, I don't think it was necessarily balanced, I just have a thing against thinking political positions you disagree being not really opinions at all, but some much more naked evil. The same attitude takes place on the right when people say people on the left don't want healthcare for any of the stated reasons, but as a pretext to enslave America, or whatever.

Presumably he would not have done this if he didn't want and expect them to be supported by the municipalities that he favored with his largesse.

Right. In fact, quite the opposite. The explicit "deal" when a town accepted a Carnegie library was actually that--that he would build them the library if they allocated the funds to maintain it.

Actually, although this is really unpopular to say, I think libraries have lost some of their high ground by moving away from the 19th-century idea that they had specific values to communicate--that libraries were there to educate, ennoble and uplift the town, as well as entertain. That's totally how Carnegie's era thought of it. As far as books, this is probably the wrong approach. Reading has value virtually no matter what you read, but I don't feel the same about libraries with big DVD and CD collections, devote to exactly the same stuff you can get down the street at the mall. If the library stands for introducing children to reading, encouraging reading in adults, and being a place where you can explore the world generally, I'm all for it. To the degree libraries are just a free version of Blockbuster, that's another story. Digitization is going to kill all that off within the decade anyway--both media are dying already, and by-wires digital media is licensed in such a way to prevent what libraries do, namely buy once and lend many times.

Jul 2, 2010, 10:52pm

#55-I suppose that unique can mean many things when one is talking about public library patrons. What I meant was that you only count a patron once that year no matter how many times they use their card.

One additional question I would add: How many hard dollars did your library services contribute to the community last year? (I know about the site above citing 4x ROI. My experience is that most librarians think that it is futile to try to track this kind of information because 99% of the time you can't actually prove the value of say answering a reference question. However, tracking the money in the 1% of cases where you can actually assign value can be eye-opening. The very last question that I dealt with as a reference librarian involved tracking down some information that ended up being in an IBM defensive publication from 1958. It took me 3 hours and turned out to be on some microfilm we had been arguing about throwing away. That information ultimately saved a local company $2 billion in a patent lawsuit and almost assuredly would not have been found except by another librarian. That was unusual, but as a reference librarian I could almost always prove $500K-$1M every year--but you have to look for it).

Jul 2, 2010, 10:55pm

>57 dcmdale:

It would be nice to have a measure of "truly unique" library patrons.

Jul 2, 2010, 11:37pm

I am a little overwhelmed here by this topic. I live in NYC. While i agree in this big city we do have many branches left after the huge budget cuts, I have to travel a great distance to go to a library that may have a book i might read. I have gone to the library that is closest to my home and i could not believe how few book they had. They had very few new books as well. I was told i could put in a request for a book and honestly i'd rather go on facebook and ask my friends if any of them have a copy i can borrow. Before someone comments to tell me to travel to Manhatten, i should mention i live in Brooklyn and I am disabled. I cannot travel easily and i do not drive. I would like to know if anyone knows whether or not Brooklyn will ever get our libraries back?

Jul 3, 2010, 1:16pm

This article, and even some comments in this discussion, just show that libraries don't do a good enough job of getting our message across about what we are and what we do. And, of course, every library is different, but basically, all libraries put information into the hands of people who otherwise might not be able to access that information. It's not about books. It was never about books, that was just the common format. Today, and in the future, we deal with more digital media. So? I don't know the stats, but how many people who are in the lower socio-economic groups have a computer in the home? Libraries provide that access to them. Libraries provide access to resources on the Internet that are not free. So many people have this misconception that everything on the net is free. As a librarian, I know this is not even close to true, based on the hundreds of thousands of dollars my library spends each year on access to databases. Whether they access it from home or in the library, the only reason they can get it is through the library or pay thousands of dollars themselves for a personal subscription (if even available), but who in the general public knows that?

In the PR wars, libraries have to stay on the message "Without us, you can't get this", whether it's just Internet or computer access for those without, or access to information only available in databases or reference books, or access to out-of-print books, movies, etc.

Jul 3, 2010, 8:06pm

>56 timspalding:

I also agree, despite persistent attempts to "socialize" me otherwise in library school, with this dangerous idea that libraries should help to raise people up, not mostly anesthetize. Libraries are why I didn't go into food service like my parents, why I could envision any different kind of life. Libraries helped me to learn and dream, to think and grow. It's not that I don't grok gaming or even that I think entertainment doesn't have its place; it's that I've got a broader sense of leveling-up in mind. Maybe I'm just an unreformed capitalist. Then again, maybe libraries with low expectations of their poor clientele are like "easy teachers," preserving the self-esteem of those they serve but doing them a grave disservice, leaving them unskilled and dependent, virtually guaranteeing that they will struggle for the rest of their lives.

I wish that Fox had mentioned what the people were doing on the Internet. I doubt they were all job-hunting, ALA propoganda to the contrary.

Last month, in an interview for a public library job (where DVDs and CDs dominated the main floor), I justified having limited DVD/CD collections that might draw people in, spark an interest in, say fantasy, that might then lead to reading about related topics. I said that book collections should reflect the interests and needs of the clientele. I also said that if two people came to the reference desk, I'd prioritize the child trying to do homework over the person trying to download music (no mention of whether this was a legal or illegal download.) I was called "judgmental" for advocating that the needs of the child should come first. I was not at all unhappy that I was not offered the job, even though I was (am!) in great need of employment so that I can relocate for my husband's continued schooling. I am likely to be offered a non-library job next week, and I won't be looking back. I love my current job as a librarian, and I love libraries, but I am sad to see that written literacy (and the desire to negotiate an argument longer than a soundbite) have become unfashionable. I am sad that rebellion against "privilege" and "hegemony" have made it controversial to think that libraries actually serve a purpose in our culture. I'm an elitist because I think that reading not just "literature" but science fiction, a romance novel, or a car repair manual will help a person get further in life than watching Inglorious Basterds; I have the audacity to believe that libraries are taxpayer funded and Regal Cinema is not precisely because libraries help people to better themselves. I'm apparently an archaic, Luddite 36-year-old who thinks libraries are supposed to grow and nourish self-sufficient, well-adjusted citizens who can hold down a job, pay taxes, and vote responsibly, not entitled dependents who think everything in the world should be free, demand the right to burn CDs on library computers, and complain that employers prefer not to pay high salaries to the functionally illiterate.

My county's library system has chosen explicitly not to buy DVDs or CDs, except for a very limited number of audiobooks and educational videos. Its circulation remains high. Its strategic plan affirms the value of books and reading. It's not tech-hostile; it invests in databases and in LibraryThing for Libraries to make its OPAC more useful for patrons, and there are library blogs. I think that this integrity serves the library well as it justifies itself to taxpayers.

In one assignment in library school, we were supposed to annotate the text of an old scanned document, making hyperlinks to other helpful resources for context. Many in the class just made links to Wikipedia entries. Other classes were filled with discussion about social networking and Twitter. We talked about making life easier for students by posting their readings online. We never talked about how to do reader's advisory or how to teach students to do research. That sort of thing wasn't considered "core," but elective. Maybe some librarians would prefer to budget funds (and their own time) to teach patrons to use facebook and Twitter instead of using those funds to buy books and encourage reading.

If this is the future of libraries, frankly the future of literacy may be in the hands of Barnes & Noble and LibraryThing.

Edited: Jul 4, 2010, 11:44am

Without us, you can't get this ... databases

There's a lot to this argument. And I expect it to hold water for years to come.

The fact is, however, it's been holding less water every year since the Internet took off. And the puddle that was generally available free information has grown from a puddle to a roiling ocean. One by one the internet has killed of pay databases, or rendered them less useful than free material.

To take an example, take the well known books database, sold as a subscription to many libraries.* Thirty years ago, it was an essential source for every library and bookstore, either in print or--increasingly--on CD-ROM. Libraries continue to buy it and for the life of me I don't know why. Amazon and the dozens of other such sites are a fantastic resource, far more comprehensive than any pay database of books.

Or take any number of academic databases. When I was a graduate student there were specialized databases for various collections of Greek and Latin literature--where someone sold rights to scanned texts, like the Acta Sanctorum or the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae. But meanwhile Google has destroyed database after database, not even intending to do it, but merely in the process of mass-scanning public domain literature.

We could go on and on through this and that resource--magazines, newspapers, old music, old photographs, phone books, government data. The "without us, you can't get this" argument gets weaker and weaker every year. The reverse argument--"never before has anyone, even your public library, had access to X"--argument gets stronger.

Incidentally, focusing increasingly on pay resources has another effect. Libraries are increasingly not involved in the dissemination of information and entertainment, but of high-priced, paid, license and software-restricted information and entertainment. They become corporate middlemen.

I want my library to be something more than a thin layer between taxpayers and the coffers of EBSCO, Lexis-Nexis and Gale.

*I'm biting the hand that feeds me here. We're sold by the same company, so I shall avoid mentioning the product.

Jul 4, 2010, 12:40pm

One thing that always shocks and outrages our patrons is how few old newspapers are scanned so far. A huge amount of library traffic is genealogists. Our most popular database is Ancestry. Plus, again, we have microfiched papers from all over the state that aren't yet online anywhere. We also have a heck of a time keeping small public libraries in the state from simply scanning their old newspapers and posting them to their websites. Yes, a great service, but those things are usually still under copyright, even when that paper is no longer being published. It gets complicated.

We're doing our annual standing order review right now and may possibly finally cut some of those internal book resources that cost thousands annually and do not really save that much time. Although we'll then have to tweak the written collection development policy because it specifies a brand name source for current value when billing a patron for losing something out-of-print. Then again, what else is credible? There are all kinds of layers to this stuff.

Most of our frontline staff time is spent teaching people how to find and use things online. Eventually everyone will know, sure, but that's a few decades out. And in the meantime, they aren't all able to have internet access at home even once they do figure it out. Some parts of the state aren't wired yet no matter how much disposable income you have.

Government data is another major one. At all levels of govt, mandatory forms are going online only. Just like many job applications. But the agency offices do not have public access terminals for filling these out, nor will their staff talk the public through them. Instead, they point them to their local public library for all of that. The ever-popular unfunded mandates. That's probably the most crucial service these days.

And it's just weird to watch what gets moved online. Agencies serving the poor are online only -- forms and newsletters -- and agencies serving area corporations are still churning out huge glossy print volumes. The main driver is who still has room for printing services in their budget rather than what makes sense for the end user.

Jul 4, 2010, 12:45pm

>62 timspalding: Incidentally, focusing increasingly on pay resources has another effect. Libraries are increasingly not involved in the dissemination of information and entertainment, but of high-priced, paid, license and software-restricted information and entertainment. They become corporate middlemen.

I want my library to be something more than a thin layer between taxpayers and the coffers of EBSCO, Lexis-Nexis and Gale.

I can sympathize with this to an extent, but the books were (are) a pay resource too. So there is still value in saying "the quality stuff will cost you money and paying via your taxes beats the alternative." That part is a constant. I don't think we get more corporatized just because it's a database instead of a print reference.

Edited: Jul 5, 2010, 11:20am

I enjoyed post 61.

Our library has become a place to use a computer so you can listen to or download music or play games. There's a lounge area with vending machines where people talk, sit with coffee and their laptops, sort of like B&N. The library also has a great deal of DVDs and CDs. Interesting that both local Hollywood Videos have gone out of business. You can get DVDs cheaper at the library, and this is hardly fair competition since the library is government/taxpayer funded. With CDs you can check them out, copy/rip them at home and return them, with the music industry and musicians taking the hit.

I don't like what my library has become, but it still has enough books to keep me coming back. The problem is I have to keep an eye on new books before they are pulled for the book sale, presumably because not enough people have checked them out. It's a race to get a book before it leaves the shelves.

Although I sometimes regret not getting a degree in library science, the changes of the past 20 years or so have made the library a place I would no longer like to work. And I practically grew up in libraries.

Jul 5, 2010, 11:40am

Our local library is great. Books are their main focus, but they also recognize that technology is also very important.

Recently, they did a purge of books from the bookshelves because they ran out of room. They scanned the book & if it hadn't been checked out in approximately 5 years, they evaluated the need for that book. Not the classics or books in a series or books that had a local or area interest, but books that hadn't even 'moved' in more than 5 years... especially paperbacks in the general collection.

This library has very few music CDs, but does have a good DVD collection, including 'regular' entertainment movies, documentaries & non-fiction. They also make sure there is a good diversity of choices... for small town Midwest America, that's excellent.

I'm not sure what the ratio of computers to population, but there is frequently a queue to get on the computers. Due to the teens being a little noisier in general & in what they do online (despite headphones) the library added a "teen" computer lab (special hours) that is also used for technology literacy classes & GED classes. There is a very obvious digital divide in this area.

There are also programs & events of general interest & of special interest to the public. (Lot of really good stuff!!)

This library recognizes that its main focus is Customer Service. This library is a nice place to be & a place people want to be. It is very welcoming to all.... and it shows in the usage that the library gets.

I think it is worth pointing out that this library district has a dedicated millage (property tax). And this town has both very educated citizens, but also very many for whom a home computer is only a dream & having internet access would be a fantasy.

(No, I don't work there... darnit)