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A silent protest
January 15, 2011 9:15 AM   Subscribe

Stony Stratford, outside Milton Keynes, is facing the loss of its library as a result of crippling local budget cuts. Local residents weren't too happy about this, so they decided to take some books out. All 16,000 of them.
posted by dudekiller (72 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Exactly. If the government really wants to save money, why doesn't it just shut Milton Keynes? It's not like anyone would miss it.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:23 AM on January 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


in other news from stony stratford, there were 120 chimney fires in 2010, a drop of 19 from the previous year
posted by kitchenrat at 9:29 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fuck libaries.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 9:33 AM on January 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


Well, that will save them from figuring out how to get rid of 16,000 books. Now's the perfect time to shut the darn thing down....
posted by HuronBob at 9:34 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, the idea is to raise enough money to keep the library open through overdue fees?
posted by waxboy at 9:42 AM on January 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


That's the sort of quality appliqué protest banner you only get in the shires! Fair play to the good folk of Stony Stratford, part of the national groundswell against these unnecessary, ideologically-driven cuts.
posted by Abiezer at 9:49 AM on January 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


I can't figure out why libraries keep being the targets of budget cuts whenever this sort of thing comes up. In Fort Worth, two library branches were to close but citizens successfully lobbied (along with an unexpected rise in sales tax receipts) to keep both branches open. Even in my area of Texas, which is unabashedly tea party-affiliated and where Every Single Candidate ran on that platform, every city and town has a library and all of them are well used.

Why do libraries keep getting pushed around by the politicians, even when it's clear that the citizens love them? When given a choice in nearby Dallas, people there pressured the city council to close two city pools rather than lose a library branch. It's not like the things are wildly expensive. The above article says that Fort Worth is keeping branches open at a cost of $620,000 to the city ($310k per branch). That's out of a general fund budget of $531,369,924 or 0.12% of the budget. My small town even unexpectedly included a modest rise in its budget for the library in 2011, thus bucking the trend. Even still, it has an annual cost of $827k out of a $26.8m (3.1%). I'd go on (Dallas, some suburbs, Austin, Oklahoma City, and Seattle, all chosen because they're easy to find on the Google, seem to have similar percentages), but that gets tedious. These are inexpensive, well-used places; it's frustrating to read stories from around the world about libraries being up for the axe.
posted by fireoyster at 9:53 AM on January 15, 2011 [20 favorites]


I agree - why shut down the library? it can double as a community centre, seniors's hang out, homework club, community archive -- all while supporting increased literacy, which is good for the economy. Put a coffee shop in, and bring in a bit more revenue - and the teenagers can hang out there, and borrow some books while they're at it.
posted by jb at 9:57 AM on January 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


Fuck libaries.

Do you suppose your antipathy towards this fine institution might account for your shortfall in the old spelling department?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:08 AM on January 15, 2011 [46 favorites]


Fuck spalling.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 10:15 AM on January 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


Why do libraries keep getting pushed around by the politicians, even when it's clear that the citizens love them?

Nobody loses an election for firing librarians, but everybody loses elections for firing police officers, or prison guards, or fireman. They also lose for failing to plow the snow or pickup the garbage.

But the biggest sin of all is to gasp raise taxes.

So, you know Milton Keynes? You elected Ian Stewart (Tory) and Mark Lancaster (Tory.) You voted -- again -- for a government that has, as a core position the removal of government services.

You want one, I guess you'll have to turn to a private one. What, you don't want to pay for one?

Well, fine then.
posted by eriko at 10:24 AM on January 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


Do you suppose your antipathy towards this fine institution might account for your shortfall in the old spelling department?

Congratulations, you got the joke.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 10:39 AM on January 15, 2011 [22 favorites]


I can't figure out why libraries keep being the targets of budget cuts whenever this sort of thing comes up.

My best guess is because they resist measurable outcomes. It's hard to quantifiably measure "social good" in a way that isolates the variables. While there are studies that show kids that are read to by their parents have better ... man I can't even remember it now ... better something, this is not the same as saying "fund the fire department or your house may burn down!" Libraries have always been the long-suffering public service, making do with less to the point where it's sort of amazing that they can stay open. However all of this skimping comes at a cost and many people now see public libraries as a place where people who can't afford their own books and computer access use "free" books and access. There's a classism issue there, among many other issues. I was just debating this with some onlie someone recently. You can see their arguments here.

So, there's a PR problem. There's also the class issue. There's the measureable outcomes problem. There's the fact that people are getting more insular and less community minded generally as the internet lets you hang out with more people who are like you so you don't have to rub shoulders with your neighbors. There's the fact that things are tough all over, so people are feeling the taxes squeeze and maybe if you're really up against it, you don't actually give a shit about libraries so much. So there are not that many public services lately that people feel that they can cut without directly endangering themselves [police, fire, roads, water treatment, trash] and libraries are one of them. It's a pickle.
posted by jessamyn at 10:46 AM on January 15, 2011 [35 favorites]


Even though I supposedly live in one of the wealthiest counties in the country (Fairfax, VA), the hours at our local library have been whittled down and whittled down. I imagine the people who make the decisions about libraries don't really need to use them themselves. And like Jess said, if you cut the fire department or the police department, the outcome is tangible. If you cut the library budget, nothing happens.

Not even in Simcity.
posted by crunchland at 10:53 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why do libraries keep getting pushed around by the politicians, even when it's clear that the citizens love them?

People who don't know their history are bound to reelect it.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:54 AM on January 15, 2011 [18 favorites]


I can't figure out why libraries keep being the targets of budget cuts whenever this sort of thing comes up.

Because they're easy targets. "Everybody" does not love them. In the US, the standard line against public libraries is that they are unnecessary drains on taxpayer funds that are relics from another era. People buy books online and have their own computers to find information now. Why should it be necessary to tax me to keep an old drafty library building open (in most cities, they're just warehouses for the homeless anyway, amirite?) so that librarians can be paid to sit around and shelve books all day long?

"Paper books are the yesterday technology, being replaced by online information."

"I do not agree with the big increases in the library budget. Certain infrastructure items like a new roof may be necessary, but hiring several new people and giving pay raises to the staff are not keeping within the guidelines of today's tough times."

"I recently went to a library and noticed the computer area very busy. Every computer was taken. Are all of these people too poor to buy a computer, or are they just too cheap? Rather than asking the taxpayers to subsidize computer use for those who simply would rather not buy their own, maybe it would solve both problems to simply charge a nominal fee for computer use."

Those are just a few examples of recent letters to the editor. They weren't hard to find.

Just as importantly, though, as eriko said above, people are not willing to be taxed, but they are also not willing to face the consequences of their unwillingness. They want to have their cake and eat it too.
posted by blucevalo at 11:03 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, in fairness to the swivel-eyed freebooters now running our country, they're planning to cut the police too, which is a bit of a bold strategy considering all the heads that will need cracking in the many mass demonstrations this coming summer.
posted by Abiezer at 11:05 AM on January 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have no joke, and absolute sympathy to the anti-Tory actions going on in the UK (I've been keeping up with Laurie Penny at the New Statesman-- a little breathless at times, but still a good rundown for those of us not in the UK)...

but god damn, do I love the phrase "swivel-eyed freebooters," Abiezer. I'm going to be saying that all day.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:15 AM on January 15, 2011


Why do libraries keep getting pushed around by the politicians, even when it's clear that the citizens love them?

It's class-warfare, full stop. There is a perception that libraries (like its sister, public education) primarily benefit the poor, and anything that primarily benefits the poor is OMGSOCIALISM don't you know. Those lazy poor people just need to go out and get one of the many available unfilled jobs and work hard, and then they'll be able to buy all the computers and books they could possibly need.
posted by deadmessenger at 11:18 AM on January 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


You'd think the Tea Party would be all for libraries. After all, Glenn Beck didn't have to get a fancy degree from some liberal university; he learned everything he knows from the library--and it was all free!
posted by reformedjerk at 11:20 AM on January 15, 2011


People who don't know their history are bound to reelect it.

Yup, Labour looked like they were doing OK for a while, but then they reverted to type and went on a huge spending binge without any idea of how to pay for it, and now the Tories have come along to get things under control.
posted by Urtylug at 11:36 AM on January 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Those lazy poor people just need to go out and get one of the many available unfilled jobs and work hard

Jobs are so 1980's. The poor are supposed to work for their dole in the Big Society. Self-improvement comes via Rupert Murdoch courtesy of The Sun and Sky TV.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:38 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Those lazy poor people just need to go out and get one of the many available unfilled jobs and work hard, and then they'll be able to buy all the computers and books they could possibly need.

Of course, since all the jobs are listed online, it's kind of a Catch-22.
posted by waitingtoderail at 11:43 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


My best guess is because they resist measurable outcomes.

Which makes me wonder: is there any data to show various measures of quality of life correlating with the presence and/or level of usage of libraries? I realize establishing some sort of causation would be difficult to impossible but at least this could kind of metric could be used to support a public relations campaign...
posted by dubitable at 11:44 AM on January 15, 2011


I love libraries, I spent most of my free time after school in libraries, and yet ... I hate this, but they are outdated. Jessamyn's right about communities becoming less social. When I was a sprog, middle-class adults used libraries. Maybe they were just getting the latest Robert Ludlum book that they had put on hold, but they entered libraries, checked out a book or two, and had a positive experience.

Now, anyone with enough money to afford home internet, cafe internet, or Amazon doesn't need to go to a library for anything.

This doesn't cover everyone, but it covers nearly everyone who votes. From home, most of the library's base has access to more volumes than even a good city library is likely to stock, and certainly has access to sufficient reference information to work on school essays.

I wish in some ways that we could go back to a pre-interent time when, to get information, you had to hang out with other people in the real world who were also seekers, but it's gone virtual and here we are (on Metafilter).
posted by zippy at 11:54 AM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


For a lot of places, here where I am, for example, it's at self-fulfilling vicious cycle stage.

I've been to my Pierce county library branch. Unless I'm looking for current periodicals (and not as many as you would think) or a set of encyclopedias (and who needs that anymore?) there is just nothing there for me as far as a resource for finding information. It's a nice quiet place to get some work done on the laptop, with free wifi and more desk space than a Starbucks, but that's about it. They have fewer books than the barely limping along ghost of a Borders store across the street.

Or rather, it would be easy to get that impression, if you don't notice all the free online databases you get on the library's web site for login with your library card. Plus an increasing number of ebooks, as soon as I figure out how to jump through the hoops to get them. I can do that from home, though.

So it seems on first glance like it's not worth the tax money, but that's because they don't have enough money to make the physical building much more than a coffee shop with a bunch of random books on shelves.
posted by ctmf at 12:03 PM on January 15, 2011


fireoyster : Why do libraries keep getting pushed around by the politicians, even when it's clear that the citizens love them?

Precisely because people like having libraries. The mayor wants a raise? The police union's yearly extortion worked too well? The schools need a new diamond-encrusted arena? Good luck passing that budget. But! Piggy-back it on something they do care about, and suddenly they can raise taxes for the arena-I-mean-library.
posted by pla at 12:04 PM on January 15, 2011


Ah, this is the kind of gesture that the shires are so good at.

I don't know Stoney Stratford library (I try and avoid MK at all costs) but I know how things go a county of two away.

Everyone gets together to demand the library stays open, but when/if it does, no fucker uses it. Where I live, they closed the library and the village took over with a community run effort. No wages, just volunteers and a van that swaps books with Central every week.

And still, no-one uses it. Those people who demanded the library stay open because it was an important part of the village go back to buying pulp from Amazon or Tesco because they can buy a new book for the same as 2 weeks' late fees.

They're not a local resource or a place for the locals to hang out. They stay cold and damp and empty. Christ, the mobile library parks up on the road outside once a week and seems to get more loans.

And the worst bit is that I'm one of them. I'll demand that we keep the library, because it's something a village should have. But every night I drive past and think, I really should go in there some time. But not tonight. And besides, they'll not have anything worth reading. They never do.

And the travesty is that Central is a huge bright airy thing in the middle of a shopping centre, with books and computers and space and a cafe and even fucking heating.

But I never go in there either...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 12:35 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


>> fireoyster : Why do libraries keep getting pushed around by the politicians, even when it's clear
>> that the citizens love them?
>
> Precisely because people like having libraries.

Clever point. I wonder if that's why Jerry Brown, who seems an unlikely sort of governor to do this, has submitted a proposed budget for California that eliminates state funding for all public libraries.
posted by jfuller at 12:36 PM on January 15, 2011


UK Map of threatened libraries (via).
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:40 PM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Piggy-back it on something they do care about, and suddenly they can raise taxes for the arena-I-mean-library.

This does not happen. I am a person who closely follows pretty much every single "oh noes, they're closing the library!!!" freakout in the US and that sort of thing does not happen. It makes good blog argument, but it does not happen.

What usually happens is that there's a budget crisis, they say they're going to cut libraries, people lose their shit, they cut libraries less than they were going to, and people act like they weren't totally reamed by the budget while police and fire salaries remain stable. Don't get me wrong, I am in favor of police and fire salaries. However, in the overall equation, library workers are often non-union and/or part time and are one of the few places that even have something for budget slashers to cut. I worked in a public library where health insurance premiums were going up double digits every year. Which means even if the budget for the library stays the same, higher health care costs for 10-20 employees [and multiply this by hundreds in large city systems] mean that there will be much less money available books, keeping the lights on, photocopying, book delivery to seniors, interlibrary loan or whatever.

To be fair to Jerry Brown, he came after the libraries after making state meployees give back cell phones and other things, I don't think he takes this lightly. Some states [such as Vermont] actually have almost no state money going to libraries, so there's precedent for such a system working, but it's clear that going from where CA is now to a system like Vermont has would be really shitty and result in a lot crappier services than what Californians are getting now.
posted by jessamyn at 12:45 PM on January 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why are libraries targets for cuts?

Usually you have a situation where there are a few big popular libraries that thousands of people visit then you have many more much smaller libraries with relatively very people visiting them. The massive reduction in government funding this year means that those smaller libraries are likely to get closed.

I think it's pretty ridiculous to call it class warfare. It's crude but - the more disadvantaged you are the more contact you'll have with council services. Closing a library puts money into another service. There will still be libraries - they'll just be further away.
posted by AJD at 12:52 PM on January 15, 2011


"Even in my area of Texas, which is unabashedly tea party-affiliated and where Every Single Candidate ran on that platform, every city and town has a library and all of them are well used."

Not for long, methinks... Deficits: they make 'em bigger in Texas. $27B vs. California's $25.4B deficit.

The difference being, California's GDP is about 60% larger than Texas', and California attracts the bulk of the US' venture capital... a growing percentage, in fact, based largely on the value of its workforce and location.

In comparison, what's driving Texas' economy isn't low taxes. It's oil and comparatively stable real estate prices... but even that is kind of rocky, with signs of getting worse.

A lot of the economic fallout of this recession still has to work its way through Texas' economy, which didn't feel as much of the initial shock, but will certainly feel the impact of their state government's upcoming job cuts, their comparative lack of assistance for the poor and longterm unemployed, etc.

This is what happens if you follow the "tax cuts are *always* good" philosophy to its logical conclusion. Tax cuts are a great way to not have roads, public education, police, fire departments... and a great way to give struggling families no choice other than foreclosure.
posted by markkraft at 12:59 PM on January 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


The amazing thing about libraries is that their mileage varies with the community. Generally people love libraries, or at least Calgarians do, and I can't really recall anyone that hates the library. I can't recall any negative letters to the editor recently, although they probably exist. The preschool, senior and ESL programs are so valuable to the public and the community knows it. One branch I worked at was busy every weeknight. You couldn't find a place to sit and it was the only NE branch at the time. It was and is a very social place and it's never quiet there in the evenings :-D Even the college and university libraries here get lots of use, but I can only quantify it by how few places there are to sit when visiting.

As Jessamyn said, it is a problem in quantifying. You can't quantify the effect of improving English skills or senior's computer skills and it's a shame that libraries even have to. Schools have it easy - it's easy to figure out how good or bad a school is doing by attendance or grades.
posted by Calzephyr at 1:01 PM on January 15, 2011


To be fair to Jerry Brown, he came after the libraries after making state meployees give back cell phones and other things, I don't think he takes this lightly.

Yes. I agree. At least Brown is actually presenting the economic picture as it stands instead of hiding behind smoke and mirrors and bullshit like Schwarzenegger did for seven years. Any California governor who's looking at reality would probably need to present this kind of budget or something very much like it eventually, given Prop 13's sacrosanct status and Californians' absolutism against raising taxes. And it's damn unfortunate that previous governors and legislatures bequeathed this nightmare to Californians and bankrupted their future.
posted by blucevalo at 1:26 PM on January 15, 2011


zippy: "Now, anyone with enough money to afford home internet, cafe internet, or Amazon doesn't need to go to a library for anything."

ctmf: "I've been to my Pierce county library branch. Unless I'm looking for current periodicals (and not as many as you would think) or a set of encyclopedias (and who needs that anymore?) there is just nothing there for me as far as a resource for finding information."

SERIOUSLY?!?

I can find all kinds of great info on the web; I use AskMeFi and Google Books and Project Gutenberg and Archive.org and government websites and can find all kinds of things. But there's so much you can get at the library that you can't get anywhere else, unless you have a massive budget for books and media. Especially books.

I love my library so much I'm constantly running up against the 50-item limit on checked out materials.

Currently checked out from my utterly fabulous San Francisco library: I love my library. I support my library - most directly through donations to the Friends of the Library (and, of course, through my taxes).

And every time I'm at my library, whether it's the local branch or the enormous Main, I see loads of other people there - kids, folks doing research, people browsing and reading and picking up their reserves and asking the librarians questions.

I know not everybody loves their library, but I'm certainly not the only person using mine. And the notion that they're obsolete in the Internet era is just wrong.

For any frugal person who's interested in stuff, it's an incredible bargain.
posted by kristi at 2:08 PM on January 15, 2011 [14 favorites]


Yay! Stony Stratford in the news! MK Dons! MK Dons! Ahem.

Seriously though, the organizers will be stoked with the way this has been picked up by the global media. Library closures are pure evil.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:20 PM on January 15, 2011


kristi: yes, seriously. You're library is obviously better than mine in the physical books department. Mine has two or three or a half-dozen max for each category of the Dewey Decimal system. If I'm interested in a particular topic and not just trying to kill time with a random book, that isn't going to do the job.

Like I said, their online offerings are great, and it IS a pretty pleasant place to sit down and do some work, but it isn't what I think a "library" is.
posted by ctmf at 2:37 PM on January 15, 2011


Your library.
I feel compelled to correct that instead of just leaving it like I normally would, given the topic.
posted by ctmf at 2:43 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Only tangentially related, but every time I hear the name Milton Keynes, I imagine it is a town that was created by the partnership of Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes which would make it the oddest place on earth.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 2:56 PM on January 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm all for public libraries, but this passage:

The idea was to empty the shelves by closing time on Saturday: in fact with 24 hours to go, the last sad bundle of self-help and practical mechanics books was stamped out.

gives a hint of the problems. That library is still using stamps? That branch has propably been under-funded for years.
posted by hoskala at 3:15 PM on January 15, 2011


but god damn, do I love the phrase "swivel-eyed freebooters," Abiezer. I'm going to be saying that all day.

So you swivel-eyed freebooter, I'll have the freshly squeezed orange juice, eggs over easy on wholemeal....
posted by the noob at 3:26 PM on January 15, 2011


That library is still using stamps? That branch has propably been under-funded for years.

Or they're small enough that the economies of scale that you'd get by using an automated system don't save them any money or time. Most people who go to their own libraries more than never have an idea how their library runs. Few people who are not library employees have much of an idea of the many different ways a library can run and still be considered a totally decent library by most people. So, for an example, many of the libraries, in fact most, in my region still use stamps. Saves time, money and hassle over getting a receipt printer that may use proprietary paper and/or ink. Many people are from places that are happy to interlibrary-loan them tons of books so if their own library is deficient, the library system can fill in the blanks. Other people aren't and live places where they are charged for ILLs. Some systems have overdue fees, others don't. These are fairly largeish differences but they're often not highlighted because there are few people who regularly use multiple libraries in different systems.

So, there's this interesting illusion in the US that there is some nationwide library system when in fact that's not true at all. In places like Australia they have province or statewide systems and Canada's library systems are mostly legislated at the province level if I'm not mistaken. The US does things mostly state by state, so if you move from one state to another you can be alternately psyched or horrified at what your new library does or does not do compared to your old one. It looks like the UK is a lot like this and that's what's leading to this local concern and this local response.
posted by jessamyn at 3:34 PM on January 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


You know what libraries are great for? Travel guides. Every time I go on a trip, I could spend upwards of $30 on the latest Frommer's or Fodors guide. Or I could check out all the guides at my local library for free. They usually have the most recent editions, and taking along a book or two with maps, day-trip suggestions, and write-ups on interesting hikes, sightseeing opportunities and shops makes any trip that much better.

And while I'm driving to my destination, I can check out books on CD from my library. They have hundreds of them, from Dan Brown to lectures on history and philosophy. Audio books are extremely expensive for a single family to purchase (especially because you're probably not going to listen to it more than once), but it's the sort of thing that makes perfect sense to keep in a public library.

There's also a lot of books, audio CDs and DVDs to check out. Yes, I suppose I could afford to buy them myself. But why should I? For an extremely small bit of tax money, I can take an advantage of a large collection. The amount of tax money I spent per year on libraries versus the amount of materials I use is certainly a better buy for me then the money I spend on Netflix.
posted by kingoftonga86 at 3:41 PM on January 15, 2011


>So, you know Milton Keynes? You elected Ian Stewart (Tory) and Mark Lancaster (Tory.) You voted -- again -- for a government that has, as a core position the removal of government services.

It's the Tories who have imposed the spending cuts, but it's often other parties who are having to implement them. The proposal to close Stony Stratford library is coming from the Lib Dems, who run Milton Keynes Council. Even in Brent, which is solidly Labour-controlled, there are plans to close half the libraries in the borough. So you can't just say, "you voted for them, you take the consequences". Libraries are under threat all over Britain, not just in Tory-controlled areas.

As for those on here who are saying, "well this is very sad, but libraries are obsolete", remember that it isn't just libraries that are affected by the spending cuts. My local council is also proposing to cut funding to museums and arts centres (in this case the cuts are ideologically driven -- the council's chief executive wants to cut all arts funding and has been quoted as saying "we can't waste this crisis"), and if my local library closes, as seems likely, the community groups that meet in the building will also be threatened.
posted by verstegan at 3:49 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, libraries are great if you're a voracious reader, the library covers the area, and you don't mind waiting for inter-library loans. And you don't mind keeping track if what you've got out to avoid fines. And the library is open when you aren't at work.

If any one of these isn't true, especially the voracious reader part, then libraries in the US probably are not serving you as well as the internet and online book sellers.

And the unfortunate spiral of lower funding means most of these prrobably aren't true. The library has inconvenient hours, or it only is able to stock popular titles and lacks the unusual items that cost more money. And so on.
posted by zippy at 3:52 PM on January 15, 2011


I guess I expect a library to have, not every book on hand I might want, but to at least have the canonical books that I will certainly need to read on a subject. I found it very annoying when I took a C programming class that my library branch has a couple of crappy "teach yourself C" books but that I couldn't even get a copy of K&R through ILL.

Amazon to the rescue.

I guess it's a mission focus thing. My library is not a place to go to find information on a specific thing I have in mind. It's for people to find entertainment reading. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just not what I want.
posted by ctmf at 4:04 PM on January 15, 2011


In Canada, public libraries are municipally funded, which leads to the same police vs. fire dept. vs. transit vs. parks & rec vs. libraries struggles seen elsewhere. Just this week, the Toronto Public Library Board voted against closing the [Urban Affairs] location and moving its collection to the downtown reference library, a decision that contributed to the board’s request for a 2.6-per-cent increase to its budget, angering [Mayor] Ford
posted by Paid In Full at 4:58 PM on January 15, 2011


Yes, libraries are great if you're a voracious reader, the library covers the area, and you don't mind waiting for inter-library loans. And you don't mind keeping track if what you've got out to avoid fines. And the library is open when you aren't at work.

I use my local library to get through a huge number of graphic novels. I look them up and book via the internet, check they have arrived via the internet and then collect and pay reservation fees at the automated machine when I collect them, they will also leave automated reminders of books that have arrived. The local service is county wide so they can draw on about 30 separate local libraries and have loads in. It's 50p for a reservation from another branch. They open until 6pm, and every branch in the county opens on Saturday. I am regular enough that some of the librarians let me make reservations on an honesty basis if I forget my card. We have yet to hear whether there will be cuts to our local services.

Re Jessamyn's earlier comment, library funding is from local taxes in the UK and cuts are very much on a local basis. This leads to the problem that less well off places have less tax revenue.
posted by biffa at 5:03 PM on January 15, 2011


markkraft: "fireoyster: 'Even in my area of Texas, which is unabashedly tea party-affiliated and where Every Single Candidate ran on that platform, every city and town has a library and all of them are well used.'

Not for long, methinks... Deficits: they make 'em bigger in Texas. $27B vs. California's $25.4B deficit.
"

You might be right about the potential after-effects, but I want to point out that local services--police, fire, EMS, libraries, public works, roads that don't have a number (or do and have "CR" in front of it), most parks, etc--are all funded by local tax dollars. It's something of an oddity in Texas governance wherein most government entities pretty much act independent of each other. A city has its own sources of revenue, a county has its, a school district its, and so on. We even form special-purpose districts for things like water in an unincorporated area. My point is that while the state may be running a massive deficit that will likely screw us for years in terms of four-year universities, highways, state parks, and most public health services, localities will still keep doing what they're doing which, hopefully, includes libraries.
posted by fireoyster at 5:33 PM on January 15, 2011


zippy: Yes, libraries are great if you're a voracious reader, the library covers the area, and you don't mind waiting for inter-library loans. And you don't mind keeping track if what you've got out to avoid fines. And the library is open when you aren't at work.

Or you have small children. Or you have disabilities requiring audio books, large print, DAISY books or Braille. Or you have disabilities preventing you from coming to the library building. Or you don't have the money for a computer + internet + house + electricity + knowledge needed to use a computer for things like accessing tax forms, immigration forms and benefits forms. Or you want a space for studying because you live 6 people to a 2 bedroom flat. Or you're effectively homeless and need somewhere to hang during the day and at least the library is comfortable and fun and gives them a chance at increasing their skillset. Or you've realised 'information on the internet' varies between what you can find for free, what libraries pay for and what librarians can find. Or you want basic tech manuals that are overpriced for beginners.

...

Oh wait, you're judging ALL libraries on yours? Sorry.

That all said, in my area we are seeing more and more libraries completely undercut by the State Library because there is a push to be as monolithic as possible - multiple copies of popular material, popular material only and removal of focus from non-fiction to entertainment (and similar collections regardless of community and neighbourhood). This is something fought by a number of librarians but our budget is being hacked at to accommodate those specific changes.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:21 PM on January 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Geek, I'm in agreement that that are lots of good things libraries do, what they don't do is something most voters want and need. And with this come class issues, economic issues, and convenience, along with the not necessarily cheaper but in many ways more accessible, more convenient, and relatively cheap internet that doesn't serve every constituencies, but serves most of the active voter base.

It is not just libraries that are dying. The same forces, I presume, are what are killing off independent bookstores and movie theaters.

I wish it were otherwise, and vote in favor of every library funding measure, but short of some multibillionaire philanthropist funding libraries, or the internet going away, do you think libraries, outside of a few communities, are going to grow and thrive?
posted by zippy at 7:25 PM on January 15, 2011


want and need ... and are willing to fund.
posted by zippy at 8:53 PM on January 15, 2011


zippy: It is not just libraries that are dying. The same forces, I presume, are what are killing off independent bookstores and movie theaters.

I wish it were otherwise, and vote in favor of every library funding measure, but short of some multibillionaire philanthropist funding libraries, or the internet going away, do you think libraries, outside of a few communities, are going to grow and thrive?


Absolutely. in many places (like the entirety of the US) library use is increasing. Libraries and librarians are actively assessing use of the library and adjusting it to suit community needs.

The assumption that everyone who matters to library survival has the internet and everyone is literate and everyone has money is at the core of your argument. Also that those with those things are the active voter base - I'm Australian so we are ALL voters here which does affect how libraries work in our country. There are some really ugly class connotations to 'the middle class don't need libraries so therefore libraries will fail' that create a self-fulfilling prophecy. The concept that the internet replaces a library ignores a LOT of what libraries offer and a lot of what libraries are beginning to focus on offering because the internet does cover a lot of what we used to do. Things like encyclopaedias and fact checking books and periodicals and resources like that. So we divert the budget out of those and into areas like services and hours and deepening the collection. However it's hampered by people saying ridiculous things like 'why do we need a library if we've got the internet?' because instead of libraries reapportioning funds, they just get funds taken away. This disadvantages the large amount of people sans internet AND negatively impacts on services because losing staff due to budget cuts makes a dramatic amount of difference to hours and opening times and services.

And the idea of serendipitous reading and exploration of material is a big part of why libraries work for enjoyment and research - something that the internet tries to do but rarely does well.

In all seriousness, I work at a library open 7 days a week, late 2 nights a week - it's considered an okay amount of time but not great. It integrates with LibraryElf so you can get email reminders. The last library I worked at was 7 days a week, late every week night. We all try to cover a reasonable area in the collection but can be hampered by budget. Most libraries will purchase on request where possible/feasible/reasonable. Inter library loan is a bit of a pain depending on how that works in your region. Your criticism of libraries are based on a library, not on what happens in many many other libraries.

And I seriously doubt you've done much schoolwork recently if you think the open web has enough information and acceptable resources to write assessment.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:19 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I bet Bill Gates could solve alot of these problems, but he is no Carnegie.


here is our local library optimist view.

'If the millage doesn’t pass, will the Flint Public Library close?

If the 1.4 mills do not pass, the Library’s tax revenue will have fallen from $4.9 million in 2007 to $2.4 million by 2013. With that massive revenue loss and the resulting staffing cuts, service at all library branches, including Main, would be drastically reduced, as would programming, because it is staff who plan and implement programs. Though the Library might not close its doors, it would not be the Flint Public Library as we know it today.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Several years ago, I heard talk of a new building. What happened to that project?

We have plans and models for a beautiful building. Once the economy has recovered, we look forward to sharing these plans with the community.'
posted by clavdivs at 9:42 PM on January 15, 2011


I had the misfortune of moving recently to an area where funding has been gutted so deeply that my local library can no longer afford interlibrary loans. If I wish to join the county library, I will have to pay $100 for the privilege, because apparently I live in an area of the county that doesn't contribute tax money to the county library.

I find the whole thing so frustrating, particularly after living in a major metro where I could join any library in ANY county within 100 miles of me.

Anyway, yeah -- the incredulous commenters up above talking about how useful libraries are... be grateful that you live near, and are entitled to use, a library that stocks more than 500 dusty, aged books.
posted by artemisia at 10:57 PM on January 15, 2011


It is such a chicken and egg conversation, if you invest in an egaging library like DOK people flock to it. I must say I thought a lot of public libraries in the UK seemed so old to me, coming from modern, community oriented Canadian libraries open seven days a week.
posted by saucysault at 12:05 AM on January 16, 2011


I don't understand why they can't just fire the staff and install a sentient orangutan who works for bananas. Problem. Solved.
posted by Ritchie at 3:02 AM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


who works for bananas. --- Think again.
posted by crunchland at 5:25 AM on January 16, 2011


> New California Gov. Jerry Brown, facing tremendous budget problems, has proposed a statewide budget that eliminates state spending on public libraries entirely. Those cuts amount to around $30 million.

There are 36 million people in California. For the sake of argument, let's say half of them pay taxes. In that case we'd be looking at a shortfall of $1.66/taxpayer. People lose more than that in their couches every year, but I'm guessing it would be political suicide for Brown to suggest raising taxes to cover it, right?
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:52 AM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Geek, I'm in agreement that that are lots of good things libraries do, what they don't do is something most voters want and need. And with this come class issues, economic issues, and convenience, along with the not necessarily cheaper but in many ways more accessible, more convenient, and relatively cheap internet that doesn't serve every constituencies, but serves most of the active voter base.
I'm actually not sure this is true. At least, I see a lot of older people at the library, and senior citizens vote more than younger people do. My sense is also that libraries are widely used by middle-class-and-above parents of small children. You don't have to be a voracious reader to go through picture books at a good clip.

(I'm sure there's data about this out there somewhere, and I could be wrong.)
posted by craichead at 7:05 AM on January 16, 2011


There are a few reasons that libraries appear to be targeted, which haven't been mentioned here.

1. They aren't being particularly targeted, you're just hearing the campaigners: there are a lot of cuts that are bigger in cash and personal impact than library services. Disability Living Allowance, for one thing (see Benefit Scrounging Scum for one disabled person's take). However, libraries have a "cottage hospital effect" - they are physical buildings that people feel affection for, and which are present in middle-class areas, so proposed closures motivate a campaign from articulate middle-class people, which benefits cuts are less likely to do.

2. They aren't a demand-led statutory service: Councils have a range of statutory duties, such as safeguarding vulnerable children, looking after older people, etc. Many of these services are demand-led, meaning that you have to take a child into care if they are in a dangerous situation, even if the budget is tight. That's as it should be, but libraries are not the same sort of service. Councils have a duty in relation to libraries, but only to provide a "comprehensive service that meets local needs" - that's a pretty stretchy definition, particularly in the context of low usage numbers at many smaller libraries.

3. They aren't matters of life and death: when facing a 25% budget cut, are you going to increase the thresholds for vulnerable older people accessing your service (meaning that people with mild disabilities, for instance, won't get help until their disabilities become severe)? Or do you shut that library, hunker down until the protests blow over, and keep the social care provision for older people as it is? Even that's probably a luxury choice for many councils - they'll be increasing service access thresholds and cutting library budgets too.

On that last point, it's worth noting that when you ask people whether libraries should be cut *in the context of cuts to other services*, opposition is a lot flakier. Leicestershire County Council ran a policy simulation exercise with a number of groups around the county a couple of years ago, and when shown the financial position and the full range of budget decisions to be made, they closed all the libraries and museums, and put the money into youth offending services instead.
posted by athenian at 7:37 AM on January 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


(Re: Leicestershire, I mean that's what the focus groups suggested, not what actually happened)
posted by athenian at 7:43 AM on January 16, 2011


I don't understand why they can't just fire the staff and install a sentient orangutan who works for bananas. Problem. Solved.

Ritchie, they'd have to have the staff transformed into orangutans to ensure successful implementation.
posted by ersatz at 7:48 AM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The orangutan thing is a Discworld joke, in case folks forgot.
posted by mediareport at 8:49 AM on January 16, 2011


I'm skimmed the thread, but I'd like to talk a little bit about how I've found a new love of libraries in the past year.

I'm a graduate student in music education. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I teach class at my campus, and on Monday and Wednesday, I go out and teach private lessons in various schools in the area. I still have papers to write and communication to do on those other days, so I need a place to camp out.

I like carbs. I'm trying to cut them out slowly, but my biggest problem on those Mondays and Wednesdays was finding a place to work. I tended to go Panera - get a bagel, cup of coffee, and camp out for a few hours between private lessons. I tried going and just getting the coffee, but my self control was shit. I tried going to Starbucks, but the one in the town I teach in isn't comfortable - no good places to set up to work. Plus, I feel a bit guilty, so I end up spending money buying a couple of cup of coffee over the time I'm there. Money I really don't need to be spending (see the grad student thing, above).

This is going somewhere. I felt screwed - I needed a place to read, work, and set up for a few hours where I wasn't going to spend money or lose my self-control around delicious bagels. Libraries were the solution. Every town I'm in has one with wifi, so I'm set. I've got to know the libraries that work on days I'm in there - I say hello, they chat with me for a bit, and I go sit, pop on my headphones, and write/read/work. Even on days where I want to just sit and read and the weather sucks, I have an amazing place to sit and relax. I've even starting using the one near my house instead of working from my apartment, because I tend to get more stuff done there.

I have a TexShare card, which is a great, because it allows me to check out books from most public libraries in the state. A few years ago, if you'd asked me about libraries, I'd say that if they weren't attached to a university, they were basically useless to me, because I didn't need the access. After spending time in several of them, I've seen the service they provide to the community - all sorts of people come through, read, enjoy the space, bring their children, and everything else.

I love libraries. Public libraries are amazing places, and it's unfortunate that it took me needing something from them before I realized the services they provided and the function they served in communities. The towns I teach in range from around 35,000 to over 100,000 people, and in each, they are centers for learning, education, and communication that are vital.

Sorry, I was a bit rambly, but it's like I had a revelation in the past year. It's just unfortunate that I didn't realize that long before.
posted by SNWidget at 9:52 AM on January 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I bet Bill Gates could solve alot of these problems, but he is no Carnegie.

Perhaps not but he is not exactly Scrooge McDuck either:

http://www.gatesfoundation.org/Pages/home.aspx
posted by edgeways at 11:06 AM on January 16, 2011


As a budding public librarian, many of the comments above echo my experiences. Yes, public library services are hard to quantify the social benefit in hard numbers. Yes, there is a classist element to the argument of cutting library services. Realistically, who uses the public library? I don't have the stats to hand, but I can tell you that families working through Juvenile and Easy Reader titles constitute a lot of it; next, you see a lot of homeless and otherwise economically disadvantaged people coming in to use the internet (largely to apply for jobs). Senior citizens tend to be a large chunk of the community I serve. This will surprise a lot of people, but teens love the library. They come in, hang out, surf the internet, and end up going home with a book or two. Then comes the average middle-class adult, who, admittedly, use the library a bit less than the other groups (in the library where I work).

I work a reference position, and yes, due to the internet, I do a lot less fact-finding (although, a lot of the "ready reference" stuff I do is helping people with genealogical research), but I do sure as hell teach a lot of people how to use the internet to find jobs. Oftentimes, the people that I end up helping have limited computer skills, and teaching them the basics of the internet is a huge obstacle to tackle, before I can even start pointing them toward reliable job postings. It is rewarding, hard work, and your average public librarian does more than their share of social work and outreach to underserved communities.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 4:29 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Re the stamping reference - I assumed that was just a journalistic cliche. It looks from the MK library pages as if users have electronic cards rather than books being stamped.

My city's main library makes a lot of use of volunteers now. Two branch libraries - in deprived areas - are likely to be closed.
posted by paduasoy at 7:00 PM on January 16, 2011


Even though I supposedly live in one of the wealthiest counties in the country (Fairfax, VA), the hours at our local library have been whittled down and whittled down. I imagine the people who make the decisions about libraries don't really need to use them themselves. And like Jess said, if you cut the fire department or the police department, the outcome is tangible. If you cut the library budget, nothing happens.

At the system I used to work at we came under the scrutiny of the local tea party chapter, so our managers had to woo the local county commissioners to maintain funding levels (we did, thankfully). One of them hadn't been to a library in years, and said something along the lines "I can't believe this place is so crowded, and during the day too!"

Also, as an aside, it turns out the tea baggers were using our public meeting rooms to hold meetings to cut library funding.
posted by codacorolla at 7:46 PM on January 16, 2011


In terms of justifying the long-term social good of libraries, I've started using a story I took from Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture" book when I hear people focusing on the bottom line arguments around library funding.

In his book, Pausch talks about visiting Disneyland as a kid and how he was so excited to spend the little bit of money he had on a gift for his parents to thank them for taking him on the trip. He looked through the entire gift shop and he and his sister ended up picking out a salt & pepper shaker set in the shape of some Disney characters.

He was also so excited that he ran out of the gift shop, immediately tripped and broke his new purchase into a million pieces. He went back inside, not expecting much but the staff member gave him a replacement set at no charge.

Pausch goes on to talk about how that one small decision worth maybe a couple bucks worth of product at the time gave him such a positive feeling towards Disney that it probably earned the Disney corporation hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years since he ended up taking his own family to Disney, taking his grad students to Disney and he even worked as an Imagineer for a time.

The point is that not everything an organization does can be captured on a balance sheet. But some of the things they do will have a lifelong, unmeasurable impact much greater than the initial investment...much like the small price we pay as citizens to have well-run, well-stocked, well-used public libraries in our communities.
posted by Jaybo at 8:04 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's the names of some good open source book lending/book catalog software?
posted by rough ashlar at 1:17 PM on January 17, 2011


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