Friday, May 09, 2008

Proud "library apologist"

Golly -- I'm a library apologist, and so is my husband, my sisters and certainly my father, too (big, big time). Many people I know are library apologists and we are damned proud of it.

What's a library apologist and why would anyone coin such a silly term? Well, what it isn't 100% clear, but apparently it is anyone who supports public libraries. It is certainly anyone who supports public libraries that circulate 21st century media such as videos, cds and dvds. Figuring out why such a silly term made its way into the public purview is easier -- Christian Schneider of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute dropped that stinker to shore up his weak, flawed argument against libraries circulating electronic media.

Libraries are now equipped with full multimedia capabilities, and serve less as educational opportunities and more as neighborhood entertainment centers. Library patrons have expanded from those who need no-cost materials to free-riding wealthy people looking for some free entertainment. Get a library card and now you have full access to a wide variety of music CDs, DVD movies, video games, and internet access, all for free, and all at taxpayer expense.

Schneider doesn't think such things should be allowed.

Well, hell. As long as we are purging content, let's burn all those James Bond novels and Harlequin romances. All Charles Dickens' novels should go, too, because someone, somewhere actually enjoyed "Great Expectations" and free entertainment at the library is a bad thing! For that matter, maybe all fiction and anything allegedly non-fiction for which the author has apologized for making it up should be tossed as well.

Does Schneider really think the Internet does not have educational content? Makes me wonder what he uses the Internet for.

A few questions: If David Halberstam's non-fiction book about the Korean War, "The Coldest Winter," is available in print version or on audio CDs, is it the morally superior thing to do to check out the print version? What if the only chance you will ever get to read it is by listening to it on your cross-country (it's a long book) bicycle trip?

If your choice is between the CD version of "The Coldest Winter" or the print version of the latest comic escapades of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum character, does one win intellectualism points for choosing the book that yucks it up about dog poop and fat reformed whores in spandex?

By the way, is it wrong to learn Spanish by listening to it on CDs you pick up at the library? Is it more wrong if you enjoy learning that way? How about if you plan to use the Spanish on a completely frivolous vacation to Mexico?

Schneider says it is wrong for libraries to compete with private companies like Blockbuster, neatly overlooking the inconvenient fact that libraries provide books in competition with bookstores like Barnes & Noble and even the local Harry W. Schwartz chain -- what makes that competing with bookstores (which also sell cds these days) more acceptable than competing with Blockbuster?

Schneider, to shore up his arguments, reaches low to manipulate and misstate the facts about the city's decision to end "holds" on electronic media. Schneider writes:

In the 2008 Milwaukee City budget, Mayor Tom Barrett began to recognize the absurdity of public libraries serving as clearinghouses for free DVDs and CDs. His budget eliminated the ability of library patrons to put digital media on hold, thereby making it more difficult to freeload off the taxpayers.

Schneider got one thing right: the city ended the ability of residents to reserve electronic media. He's just flat wrong in attributing it to any realization by any city official of the "absurdity" of the service. The city was just trying to save money to preserve library hours (that it did so by shifting costs to individuals -- thereby increasing the overall cost along the way -- and eliminating equal access to materials for all residents is a topic for another day).

Maybe Schneider doesn't know that a good argument doesn't need distortion to support it. The library has some materials on persuasive writing that might help him. Hell, the library may even have a video or CD on the topic.


Ann and Peter Hamon said...

Good for you! Ann and Peter Hamon Madison WI

Anonymous said...

Schneider probably thinks we don't need public parks either - why should government pay for swings and sandboxes when the public can purchase them from Menards?
I'm no lefty and I abhor tax money going to waste, but he's way off the mark here.
Robert Trunley in West Bend

Anonymous said...

As someone who does collection development for a public library DVD collection I can let you know that a video store is certainly not going to be a good source for anything that isn't commercially profitable. If you expect them to carry the new 3 DVD set of rare Houdini footage or a PBS Frontline special you'll be sorely disappointed!

Thanks for your great post.

Jim Bouman said...

"Libraries will get us through times of no money far better than money will get us through times of no libraries."

This kind of yapping is part of the deafening roar from the new suburbanites being annexed to the City of Waukesha:

Libraries? I don't need a library. I've got the internet.

Parks? We don't need parks. We have a park-like lot and a two thousand dollar swing set.

School buses? We drive our kids to school; and when they are 16 they drive themselves.

Mass Transit? It'll just encourage the "citizens" to come out to our safe little enclaves and and do what they do (if you know what I mean).

Keri Miller, Milwaukee said...

As a youth librarian I see on a daily basis the educational validity of new technologies being offered by libraries and it is not just DVD's and Cd's or even the Internet, but such things as offering reference services via chat and IM, reaching out to teens through social networking sites and offering programs for all ages on the latest computer technology. In order for libraries to stay viable in today's society, they must embrace these technologies and the librarians themselves need to be proficient enough in them to provide quality information services to their patrons. I am sorry if Mr. Schneider mourns a time when he believed that libraries were just about books, but he needs to realize that the purpose of the library is to provide information of all kinds to its patrons and that includes PBS documentaries, the latest Hannah Montana CD and Guitar Hero programs for teens. So get with the times sir, information is radically changing every day and libraries better keep up with it or they will be swept off into oblivion.