Monday, June 18, 2012

The Library. Teaching your community how to dance.

Stand up, those of you who think that your public library should lend the Fifty Shades of Grey series of books.

Of that group, remain standing if you work in a library and are in a position to decide which books get selected for your library.

Now, for those not standing, shut the fuck up because you don't know how a library works.


Libraries have MISSIONS.  Often these missions are tied to actual policy that has been drafted by librarians, cleared by lawyers and approved by local commissions.


The collection policy exists to keep the library within guidelines so that some asshole doesn't come along and fill the library with shit.

A typical collection policy says things like, "the library supports the educational and information needs of its community."  And from that, the library will collect and circulate educational and informational materials.

Ah, the asshole says, I need the information in Fifty Shades of Grey.

As I said earlier, shut the fuck up.

The policy may also state that materials need to fit certain criteria.  Because as the asshole just reminded us, pretty much anything can fill an information need. 

So libraries often include a need for the material to have been given a positive review in a standard professional library publication.

And I don't think your Fifty Shades of Grey has filled that requirement.  Yes, continue shutting the fuck up.

But some libraries allow their communities to suggest materials.  And often, and against their better judgment, libraries will purchase materials based on demand or based on bestseller lists.

Now, I haven't seen Footloose.  In any form.  I can't watch any movie where Kevin Bacon isn't a serial killer or where John Lithgow isn't a spaceman.  But I've heard the song and I know I could fly if only I'd just cut loose.  Footloose. God help me, I've heard the song.

But from I think happens, we have a community who decides it's wrong for kids to dance.  And have premarital boning.  But let's stick to the no dancing for now.

You can argue that John Lithgow forced the people, using his spaceman powers, to accept his no-dancing policy.  But that's beside the point, as the town set a community standard for no dancing.  It's like Oprah telling her followers what to read and then the library buying it.  Because Oprah's fans are crazy and will kill us if we don't.

So there was a community standard for no dancing.  But there used to be dancing.  But now there isn't.  Why?  Because community standards change.  Because communities are people and people change.

But libraries create policy to protect the community from itself.  For example, What if one political party came into power and all their members demanded that the library remove all books supporting the opposition's party?  Without a collection policy, the library might do that.

What if some crazy group moved into the neighborhood, meteor lovers, volcano worshippers, Lady Gaga fans, whatever, and wanted the library to carry all the materials that they think we should have?  Again, if there were enough of them, we might have to do it.

And this isn't just your money we're spending, it's everybody's money.  But it's partly your money. That's why you have a say in how we spend it.  But because you are so easily influenced, we often ignore you.

But librarians are not infallible.  We try to buy what we think is good for the library and often you disagree.  We have classic and foreign films on DVD that won't get checked out nearly as often as any Faster & Furiouser movie.

Remember, libraries are not book stores.  We shouldn't care what's hot right now.  We should only care about what's been hot for a while so that buying it will serve a need that will last longer than a couple of months.  Because we're not trying to sell anything.  We're trying to buy materials that will serve the most people for the longest time.

But we own calculators because most librarians didn't major in Math.  And a simple calculation says that if we buy the Piece-O-Shit for $20 and 100 people borrow it in one year but never borrow it ever again after, then that's as good as buying the Great-Classic for $20 that only gets checked out five times a year, but every year for 20 years.  Piece-O-Shit vs. Great Classic, it's a constant battle.

Librarians don't like to buy things that have a short shelf life.  Unless they get used a lot.  So we buy tax guides and testing books that become obsolete in a few years.  And that is why some libraries will buy  Fifty Shades of Grey.  Because the people will borrow it 200 times.

But if a library doesn't buy a book, it's not CENSORSHIP.  We can't possibly buy every fucking book.  If that's your idea of censorship, then how fucking tired must be when you spot it everywhere.

I think libraries have a duty to say Fuck You.  If you demand something that gets rejected and you demand it again so it gets rejected again, that doesn't make you Kevin Fucking Bacon trying to change the library's no-dance policy.  That just makes you another John Lithgow attempting to force your will on the people.

Because the librarian is Kevin Bacon. 

The librarian is the one who looks at the community and researches the needs and finds the solutions.  And also looks great in tight blue jeans.

So if you want Fifty Shades of Grey but your library won't buy it, you can ask again nicely.  Find out what the policy is and whether getting 20 of your friends to ask for the same book will get it bought.

But if Kevin Bacon still says no, then shut the fuck up because he knows what he's doing.  And then ask for an interlibrary loan.  Because the library can get you pretty much anything through interlibrary loan. Even a Piece-O-Shit.

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