Ohhh, Deary me!
February 25, 2013
Much kerfuffle happened last week. In an article in the Guardian UK, a popular children’s author, Terry Deary, proclaimed libraries places supported by sentimentality and no longer relevant. He points out that libraries take away sales from the author and ruin bookstores, and that people should have to purchase books like they do movie tickets. He believes that we don’t live in a society that needs to subsidize public use of entertainment.
You can imagine the reaction in the library community, not to mention from authors and other library supporters-users. This post by Rita Meade nicely summarizes some of the arguments, and offers ways to respond rather than ignore.
I would like to point out a few observations of my own:
1. Contrary to what many may believe (including Deary), not everyone can afford to purchase books or materials they would like to use. Just looking at my city with over 7.5% poverty, those living under the poverty level tend to first be 18-24, and next over 75. Are these the people to whom we want to deny information? Because they are young, or old, or just starting out, or finishing life? Maybe these groups still need our community support, and libraries are just one place that do that.
2. There is data that states that libraries often bring authors new business, and spur sales, rather than cut hugely into authors’ livelihoods.
3. I have yet to be in a public or academic library that isn’t bustling with students or young children, doing homework, getting help, looking for entertainment (be it reading, games, CDs or DVDs). Plus, the library provides Internet access to those who don’t have the means to have it at home. There are also those who use the library’s databases or other information virtually. Although the way people use the library has perhaps changed over time, people are still using libraries, whether you see them or not.
4. Librarians are truly there to help you navigate the world of information–they are not trying to sell you something, move prescribed merchandise, or sway you with a personal opinion or an agenda.
5. Libraries are a good value for a community, and something that makes a community complete (see the PEW report that states 91% of people think a library is important to their community.)
For my community, I did the following calculations to find out what I spend for me and my fellow citizens to have a library:
Budget: 4.1 million (this includes everything, not just materials, but facilities and personnel, insurance, retirement, etc.)
Population: 54,000 (area the library serves), although I will use 36,000 as the number of actual users.
$4,100,000 (budget)/36000 (amount of users)=$113 $113/12 months=$9.50 per month. $9.5/30 days= 32 cents/day
So, if you are one of the actual library users in my area, you pay 32 cents/day. If we adjust this to include the WHOLE population (those who may or may not use the library), the total per citizen per day would be 21 cents, or $6.30 per month.
I may be in the minority, but I am willing to pay $6-10 per month to allow everyone in my community to have access to learning, knowledge, and entertainment that could enrich and support the people with which I share my little area of the world. I want to live in a world where everyone has access to at least a basic level of knowledge.
To give Deary his due, there is probably some sentimentality that we all feel towards libraries. How did we get this sentimentality? We saw the value of help when we ran into a dead-end in our research, of freedom to check out what we wanted to learn about without judgment, of a constant presence that could be relied upon and trust. Now that some of us have enough to buy what we want, is that any reason to deny that sense of sentimentality to those less fortunate?
No longer relevant? Maybe to the “haves”, but certainly not to the “have-nots.”