Friday, November 18, 2011

Library 1971 vs. Library 2011

Let's go back in time forty years or so and stop in at your local public library. What do you see?

Look there in the children's section. Children sit listening to records on big bulky headphones, smiling together and laughing a little too loud because they can't hear themselves. A mother reads to her son, doing the funny voices that she knows he loves.

Smell the musty card catalog. A high school student is researching a paper he's writing on Egypt. He finds what he is looking for and uses a pencil to write the call letter down on a handy sheet of scrap paper. Off to seek the ancient treasure!

There's the newspaper section. An old man sits and has a cigarette while he reads the week's news from all across the country. But wait, what's this?

A smelly drifter has entered the library. Everyone is apalled and after a mercifully brief altercation he is led out of the library and asked politely never to return in such a state.

Fast it's 2011!

Forty-five smelly drifters sit, eyes glazed over, playing Bejeweled and Farmville. What's that tinny, angry sound? Why it's a violent music video the taxpayers are providing to that disheveled man in the surplus army coat. My, he likes it loud, doesn't he! What would he do without free access to the internet?

Wait, what's this? A child is crying because some of the puzzle pieces are missing from the wooden puzzle of a castle in the clouds. The smelly drifters within earshot glare in the direction of the child and her mother. But wait, here comes the uniformed security guard. The mother is told her child must be quiet or they'll have to leave. Now the child is frightened and the mother is angry and embarassed. They end up leaving. Thank goodness! The drifters all grunt and return quietly to their pornography.


On January 1 Hennepin County Library is reducing the number of items you can have out to 30. (I currently have 40.) They're reducing the number of items you can have requested or on hold to 30. (I currently have 72.) They're reducing the loan period of CDs from 21 to 7 days. (DVDs currently have a 7 day loan length and guess what? I never borrow DVDs because I don't get to the library every week.) This change is sold as a "conservation of resources" decision here.

I won't bore you with further details of how much this new policy seems likely to ruin my library experience. In short, the library has become THE WAY I experience new popular culture and I don't think it will work anymore. And when I think about what they ARE spending their money on I can get really pissed off. Seriously. Have you been in a library branch lately? At ours most of the floor space and presumably the money is dedicated to the smelly drifters at this point. A bunch of unemployed noobs playing addictive video games. Fucking computers. Fucking disgusting.

So Hennepin County Library, I might still love you. We'll see. But if your goal was to drive me away to try Kindle, Amazon, iTunes, etc., give me less reason to visit your branches, and cause me to recosider votes about libraries getting more tax dollars - mission accomplished!

(I am turning 40 remarkably soon, so I'm sure this will be the first of many such rants against change.)