Monday, February 06, 2006

Are public libraries free? A modern journalist's take.

I found a newspaper column online that I felt seemed keeping right in theme with what we've been studying. A journalist was shocked to find DVD's of popular TV shows and movies at his local library. Interesting to see a modern none librarian's thoughts on the subject.


Jeremy4031 said...

Isn't this just a re-hash of Garrison's theme in the earlier part of Apostles of Culture? Victorian librarians found that their dislike of popular fiction was increasingly overridden by the public's demand for it. So too with us: We could simply refuse to stock The Sopranos: Season 2 on DVD. But that would be writing off a whole group of potential patrons in exchange for a brief sensation of moral righteousness on our part.

Too, the supposed conflict between "good" and "bad" (or "high" and "low") materials is not really all that severe. Even if there are 50 copies of Danielle Steele's latest on the shelves at the public library, someone who wants to read Pound, Hemingway, or Eliot is probably not going to be shut out, if only because the three or four copies of them aren't in such demand. Especially given that the cost of hot new-release books can be defrayed through a rental program--or even that such books can thus be made to pay for other books--I just don't see what the problem is.

Greg D. said...

I would submit that this piece doesn't just represent the thoughts of "a modern journalist," but a particular political point of view from an economic and social conservative columnist. For example, in an earlier Newsday column of his, he wrote:

School taxes make up the biggest chunk of the local property tax bill. We certainly can point fingers at public school board members, administrators, teachers' unions and some of the higher paid teachers in the country. They've worked together to drive spending and taxes through the roof.

But county, town and other local government officials also deserve blame. They pile expenses on the taxpayers as well, with few showing any serious interest in exploring ways to reduce costs. And among those local government costs, Long Island taxpayers pay for some of the higher paid police officers in the nation. Big bucks for cops, teachers and other civil servants mean big taxes.

In addition, our state legislators over the years have socked public schools and local government with all kinds of mandates. That's always fun and easy for a politician - take credit for a new program and let somebody else pay for it. State politicians obviously don't care about slicing away at mandates or layers of government. Instead, they pander to public-sector unions that contribute lavishly to political campaigns, and hit residents with heavy state taxes as well.

Unfortunately, fingers must be pointed at both Democrats and Republicans, since neither party has exhibited any broad political leadership on reducing taxes.

But guess where ultimate blame lies? If you don't vote, you're to blame. If you buy into the baseless spin that more must be spent to get better results in government, you're to blame. If you voted for school budgets hiking spending and taxes, you're to blame. If you ignore widespread government waste, you're to blame. If you vote for candidates who love government more than taxpayers, you're to blame.

The question would be, then, how do libraries construct and legitimize their public role in an environment of neoliberal governance (social service privatization, cuts to welfare programs, hostility toward labor, subsidies to private capital, etc.).

Jeremy4031 said...

The question would be, then, how do libraries construct and legitimize their public role in an environment of neoliberal governance . . .

Actually, I've heard that libraries are having a bit of an easier time of it than some other institutions. Although plenty of states and municipalities are in tax revolt right now--that is, they've made it clear that their elected officials may NOT increase taxes on them--one of the creeping success stories of the last decade has been the frequent willingness of voters to approve referenda-based bonds and tax packages in the name of "quality of life" improvements. Parks, school construction, library construction: Something like 75% of such measures pass if they are done right.

Admittedly, the caveat is that such funding is of a one-time nature: People are more enthusiastic about approving a one-time expenditure of money for library construction than for the ongoing expense of, say, extra staff. But still, I think the "neoliberal" shift is being oversold. Many people seem to no longer trust government officials--elected or no--with the exclusive control of public finances. They want a say, even if that say is frequently just a resounding "Yes."

Katie Hanson said...

I guess my question for this columnist relates in part to jeremy's earlier comment on who determines what culture should be supported by public libraries. Although the library's role of 'preserver of culture' isn't addressed in Garrison, the library still has the responsibility of putting all aspects of culture, whether considered 'good' or 'bad' out in front of the public. The public can then decide what is worthwhile. I have no doubt that when works by authors such as Dreiser, Sinclair and other turn of the century authors first made their appearances on library shelves, some librarians might have objected its quality, just as this columnist feels that The OC will have no value in the future. Maybe, but it's not really his position to decide. Why not make the material available to the public and let them decide? Isn't that how things work in a democracy?