Wednesday, May 15, 2013

If I Were King of the Library, The Second Decree

Now that the King (me) has solved the shelving issue (see the first "If I were King"), what about the fun? 

Fun goes to the passionate! Every quarter (that's 4 times a year!) we fund pet projects. Who can apply? Anyone who works there! Hell, longtime volunteers can apply too, and my blog readers! What do we fund it with? Time and money and space. Oh, then hmph, grumble, and how do we pay for this?

Aha. The king puts his money where his mouth is. All the other functions of the library are hereby stripped to the bare bones. Acquisitions are greatly reduced. Classes are reduced. Programming is reduced. The library is simplified and reduced to its basics, and everything that it loses there is filled back in by these pet projects. How do we choose these pet projects? We vote, everyone votes. Everyone has to read every proposal and everyone votes on every project. So, um, can we see an example? Yes. We will pick something simple and basic lest you think the whole thing will be too much of a carnival.

Sylvia is a kids librarian and she likes being a kids librarian, but she loves jazz. She can't stop thinking about jazz. She listens to it for hours and hours every night with her cat Thelonious. She wants a jazz corner at the library. As befits a library she believes it should be materials oriented. There will be a deep, deep master collection of CDs, the best of DVDs, books and even some long forgotten record albums. There will be a detailed and heavily stocked "Suggested" section as well. She wants a largish chunk of money and the equivalent of 2 hours a day to work on it. She also wants the maximum time for it. 2 years. After 2 years she would have to apply for some kind of renewal.

Okay, there's your example. Let's say there are not a lot of super great projects that quarter (or, heck, there are other great projects, but this one is still very popular and people trust Sylvia) and Sylvia gets fully funded. What really does the library end up with?

Instead of a mediocre CD collection (like nearly every public library I have ever been to), we get, well, a little bit more mediocre CD collection, and one, ferociously beautiful, destination Jazz collection. The kind that inspires people to explore Jazz by its own radiating conviction. We get a happy employee contributing their masterful knowledge and deep energy, and we get personality and depth. And oh yes, we wake up! I just went to three Minneapolis libraries. They were varying degrees of okay to a little bit lousy but not totally terrible. But they were mostly so absolutely asleep! The staff was asleep! The collection was asleep! The libraries were asleep. Just, wake up! Libraries can be beautiful. They can be adventures! They can be quiet and studious and calm and keenly awake. Yes, yes, they can be partly responsive to simple popularity, they should be, responsive to their statistical measures and the pull, and even the wonders of Big Media, but they can also be personally curated. Museums of art. Places of personal conviction and insider knowledge, of mercurial and fierce fandom!, where items are part of the collection because someone in the system unreservedly believes in it. Places where the forgotten that should not be forgotten is held on to, and places where the luminous depths of our culture can emerge out of the flotsam and resolve itself into the amazed and enlightened hands of its constituents. We need only be awake, and free, and care.

I can think of 20 more examples beyond Sylvia's Jazz without effort. And though tempted to run on endlessly with my visions I believe, reluctantly, especially reluctantly if I get to be King, in Democracy. So I think you should think of some of your own simple or mad ideas. I think you could, if you let yourself. Leave them here with me. When I am King we'll see about getting them funded. I think your project will win the votes necessary to get you going on your mad or simple dream, and our library will be magic.

So it is decreed, this day, etc. etc.

The King.


  1. I totally know what you mean about the clerks being asleep. Libraries do seem like sleepy places, and I've never really questioned that. If I were Queen of the Libraries, I would make all libraries have lots of windows and green plants inside and out. I bet that would make them feel more alive.

    Some university libraries seem alive and buzzing.

    1. If you applied for a project grant to fill the libraries with plants I would totally vote for it! A sort of botanical library would be very interesting

      For the record I don't think it's the clerks so much sleeping. We as a general group tend, on the down side, to go sour or crazy, it's the librarians who more go to sleep.

      I'm wondering if it's because university libraries are more purely themselves that it can be like that.

  2. Check out the main entrance to the Downtown Reno library. Loved it!

    1. Yes. There are all your plants. It's great! And I love the little pond too. I suddenly realize I would just kill for a koi pond in my library, and maybe some bonsai.


If you were wondering, yes, you should comment. Not only does it remind me that I must write in intelligible English because someone is actually reading what I write, but it is also a pleasure for me since I am interested in anything you have to say.

I respond to pretty much every comment. It's like a free personalized blog post!

One last detail: If you are commenting on a post more than two weeks old I have to go in and approve it. It's sort of a spam protection device. Also, rarely, a comment will go to spam on its own. Give either of those a day or two and your comment will show up on the blog.