Wednesday, February 08, 2006

More Libary News in the (Independent) Media

In the latest edition of the Madison Warming Campaign's street newspaper Homeless Cooperative, Jeff Alexander expresses his thoughts on the Madison Public Library in relationship to the development of the Overture Center and changes downtown, in "Goodbye State Street, Hello Overturetopia."

"Me? I'd make a brand new library out of it [money used to create the Overture Center]. Before it's too late. I mean a real library, state of the art. I'd rip out all the wealthy people and replace them with reality, that and all the high-tech gizmos you could think of.
This library we got, downtown Madison by god, supposedly a progressive city, is ancient. It thinks it's high-tech just because it has a self-checkout. Imagine.
I don't know much about all this internet thing and all that comes with it but I do understand one thing: with that same amount of money [as for the Overture Center] we coulda' made the library of the future, for generations. A truly interactive, a learning, a self-empowering environment-one that helps people help themselves. Something truly progressive, not passive, not like the Jail [his term for the Overture Center]. Not like where you and sit and be entertained for forty bucks a pop. Did you know many of the plays at the Jail have centered around homeless issues? Here we all go to be entertained by plays and their genres dealing with homelessness, romanticizing it, but many still cannot accept its reality once they leave the Jail's doors...
A library, you know, is community. It's a connection for all people. That's what we really need. And now..."

In combination with what we have read in Apostles of Culture and other readings, how do you all see the library in terms of its relationship to the poor? Do you think that service to the poor has changed throughout library history? How would you compare the mission of the library throughout time with other establishments, such as the Overture Center and museums or archives in general? I think museums provide a valuable contrast to libraries, in that most do charge a fee for admittance and often surround the housed work with literal guards and have a fairly present code of standards and behaviors. Do we want to be more like museums and close the library off from the poor, or should we strive to create a broader sense of community within the library? Who are we serving when we say that we are open to the public, and how can a librarian effect (positively or negatively) issues such as poverty?
Do any of you read this paper? Would you collect it in your public libary?


anne said...

I am really glad that you posted this in relation to Apostles of Culture. Prior to reading the book I had been reading responses in the Dallas newspaper to the recent anti body odor ordinance that has gone into effect. Boston has a similar ordinance and ALA has defended both of these ordinances on the basis that body odor bothers more all surounding patrons. None of the articles that I read on this topic contained opinions from any of the people that have been asked to leave the library because of this new ordinance.

This lack of information from patrons affected by library policies is something that continued throughout Apostles of Culture. I feel that the book lacked insight into any of the library patrons as the library and librarian ship developed. It is so infrequently that we are receive a true insight into the opinions of marginalized groups such as the homeless and unfortunately Garrison's work was not any different.

And to answer Alycia's questions, yes I do read this paper and I stongly believe that libraries should collect it. Not only is a true representation of current culture and thought but I also believe that future benefits of this collections to historians and other scholars would be invaulable.

Alycia said...

Garrison, page 41:
"The emphasis upon cleaning up one's patrons did not stem from a concern for library sanitation so much as it did from a desire to elevate the social habits of the poor or to altogether exclude the hopelessly dirty...The stench of the working class, especially in winter, was 'sickening even after every known principle of ventilation' had been applied and despite the exclusion of those unusually forbidding aspect."

The policies/news that Anne brought up and the overall treatment of the poor in libraries has me wondering, has the perception of this group changed for librarians? How do we treat the poor, or more commonly labeled and more easily dicriminated-against "smelly?"

For more info on these topics, there is also the Hunger, Homelessness & Poverty Task Force
of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association:

Lia said...

This reminds me of a point brought up in one of our discussions: that the homeless and transient of towns and cities often cannot get a library card because they do not have an address (and a soup kitchen or shelter won't work either). I understand the need for libraries to keep tabs on materials, but it seems that libraries, despite their missions to educate and provide information, are perpetuating the cycle homeless are stuck in by not allowing full access of the library to them: that is, they do not have a home and address, so they can't get a job, and without a job they can't get a home/address (this is a very simplistic description but I think is often accurate). Many libraries do not allow patrons on the internet without a library card and even to get a temporary pass the patron must produce an i.d. with an address. There is no theft of library materials with the internet and I find that policy bunk.
I agree with Annie's comments about the lack of the patrons' views of libraries in Garrison and also bothered me as well -- without the patrons' opinions (and even society's) about the library, we are left with an incomplete picture of the library and the librarian within it. As we talked about in class, it is amazing that there is so little evidence that has lasted through the years about the partons' perspective, if there was even any evidence at all. As I feel after reading Apostles of Culture, it is as if in library history (and continues today, esp. with homeless and other minority groups) the patronage is a faceless entity to be talked at or taught/reformed and never to interfere with the librarians' grand plans.

Molly said...

I agree with the comments posted so far about this issue, especially regarding the fact that collecting such a newspaper would provide a rare insight (collection and posterity wise) into the homeless and poorer populations the library serves. I think that thinking about this in conjunction with Apostles of Culture really brings out how the library's relationship with the lower classes has changed over time - from wanting to uplift them, to welcoming them as part of the library community. Perhaps tolerate would be a better word for some libraries, but overall, the library serves as more as an equalizer today that it ever did in the past. I have heard a contrast made between Overture and Central Public many times and from many sources. I think that public libraries find their strength in communities today by not being museums or overture-like centers. For as I stated in an earlier post, overture, which provides programming enjoyed by many including myself, does not reach as varied an audience as the library does. A fact that is especially interesting when one looks back on the library's roots as an institution created largely by and for the aims of the middle and upper classes - and used rarely by the lower classes.

Katie K said...

I was also really glad that you posted this article, especially since, like Annie, I was also reading about the Dallas ordinances about body odor (I saw it in Library Journal, I believe). However, I think it's important to not make it look like Garrison simply left out patron information and views. We discussed in class that there is a lack of primary sources available on the subject and what is available is limited mainly to information on library leaders. If the views and biographical information on female circ workers and catalogers aren't included in the historical record, why would the lowly patrons be included? (please note a bit of sarcasm in my voice...)

This just shows how important it is to look beyond gate count and circulation records so we can understand our patrons needs now but also provide a historical record for future generations of librarians and library historians.

Anyway, great post alycia!

Jeremy4031 said...

I think the stench rule is not totally wrong-headed. I shelve at the central public library and there are times when I can't stand to be around the guys who sit around near the large-print books. I really don't care why they're there in the library: Smelling the way they do is like shouting at the top of their lungs--it's not congenial to other people's use of the space and it IS something they can do about. The smell I'm talking about isn't "unwashed-smelly," it's "Thunderbird-vodka-and- chain-smoking-smelly."

Too, let's think about this: We make the library a totally welcoming place for transients and homeless folk. Great. Problem is, the more homeless there are in the library, the fewer other kinds of people--students, parents and chilren, immigrants, old people--will want to be there. It doesn't matter how open-minded a young mother is: She isn't going to bring her kids into a place where a boozy guy loudly exclaims: "Damn! They ain't no damn titties in these magazines!"

Yes, that's happened.

Alycia said...

Link to another street paper article on libraries by Sanford Berman: