Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Welcome, library volunteers. Mr. LaFayette will be whipping you today.

I think California is missing the point with their attempt to legislate how libraries are run. They want to add all these requirements about accounting transparency and being open for bids, but they still don't get it.

This should be about the role of volunteers in for-profit companies.

If you are a not-for-profit entity, you can use all the volunteers you want. But if you make money off the labor of unpaid employees, then you're either:

A) a pimp
B) a restaurant owner
C) a library management company
D) a time-traveling plantation slave master

Although I think waitresses make some sort of hourly salary, around $3-$5 on average. So if you chose A, C) or D), you are correct.

So when a library makes a contract with a company to maintain its collection and manage its daily operations, that company should not be allowed to run the library with unpaid employees, or, as they say in the library management biz, volunteers.

When you have 3 or 4 paid employees managing 100 unpaid workers, you have slavery. Or a Girl Scout troupe selling cookies. No, wait, slavery.

Maybe not Olde Southe Slaverye with the beating and the rape and the human trafficking, but slavery, still.

Reportedly, here is what goes on at one of these privately managed libraries:

... there are less than four full-time employees of the Paso Robles Library. There are about 125 volunteers that do everything that full-time employees used to do.

Did you hear that? Beatings! No, that didn't say, "beatings." But I didn't hear anything about free coffee and donuts, neither.

Yes, you should argue that no one is forcing anyone to work in the library for free. But what other choice is there? Every day, our library is filled with folks in search of something to do. Playing FarmVille.

Walmart couldn't get away with paying Americans nothing to work. As much as you want to curse them for other abuses, this isn't one of them. Neither could Best Buy or McDonald's or any other company in America. But libraries are doing it right now. And if library management companies are allowed to get away with profiting from unpaid workers, and don't even get me started on how Facebook does this, how soon will other companies be allowed to follow?

So when your library is out of money and some bean counter suggests that a private management company can run the library more cheaply, ask how volunteers will fit into this plan. Because if this company is making a profit while using unpaid labor to perform most of the work, you'd best check your iPhone to make sure you didn't just download an app that you thought was going to make your photos look olde-timey, but actually made everything olde timey, like it's 1850. If so, head north.

No, your GPS won't work; it's 1850, idiot.

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