Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why my library is better than yours

In the great scheme of things, in the world as it should be, my library sucks. I could make a list of 1,000 things that suck about my library. I could start from the little (our fireplaces are gas, not wood burning), and ascend to the largest (each week we spend far more hours closed that we do open). My whole blog could be devoted to the things I would fix, in a fantasy world, about my library and the things that are wrong with my library (see all my links on the right to my series "If I were King of the library" if you want a start on that). But in this world, our cruel world whose misdeeds I need not catalog to anyone sensible, my library is great. It may not be better than yours because libraries are all just great from the start, merely for being what they are amid this mess, but in the majority of cases, enough for me to confidently title this piece after it, my library is better than yours. I mean, unless your library is my library. Then, tie.

Our administrators, the library world, those library magazines and National Librarian Conventions might like to sell you a lot of soap about why my library is better, things about dynamic programs and services and unique features and innovation, but that's all secondary stuff. That's all soap. It's the big stuff that makes my library better. Big, fat, unglamorous stuff. Hours, building, access. I have been to enough libraries to know where my library falls in the rankings of these absolute fundamentals. We are, objectively, pretty crappy, relatively, we are outstanding.

We are open 63 hours a week. Not many public libraries are open that many hours. Some small number are, and a small number inch past us as well, though even then, rarely by much. Nevertheless I doubt we are in anything less than the top 5 percent. Do you want to improve your library? The conversation starts here, more hours. Everything else, while by no means negligible, tends to be small time.

Our building is Leed certified Gold and has won many Architectural awards. Pfui. My library looks eerily similar to a Library in Berlin built more than 30 years earlier than mine, and by any sensible standard my library is a study in small frills, generic, modern, conventional library design. No big high marks there for us. But we are big without being overwhelming. There is a reasonable array of seating choices and environments, and our large, workmanlike collection of books and computers again puts us in the upper ranks. We still have books. A lot. And you can sit somewhere relatively quiet. And there is virtually always an internet computer available.

Finally, we will, if we can, get you access. First off, we are easy to get to and have much fully adequate free parking. We will get you on the internet without much fuss (though not absolutely no fuss). We have a fair variety of softer rules and we are pretty well motivated to get you cards, access, and items. Yes, a third of us will throw weird roadblocks in your way, be unhelpful, or make you go somewhere else in the library to get what you need, but that is the exception. It goes against our culture. There a many other libraries I have encountered where you would have to be wildly lucky to encounter the sane permissiveness and wide ranging help you can usually take for granted at my library. You don't have your card? For god's sake I can use your license. You're not a dog I'm training to carry a library card! I can type your name. Do you just want to get on the Internet? Here's a pass. No questions asked. The Internet is not the key to our vault!

So there it is.  I say my library is better than yours. Make your best argument against it. But I don't want to hear about your 3D Printer classes, or your downloadable Automated Requesting Profiling Library Facebook App., or your dynamic community leadership. I want to know how many Nero Wolfe books are on the shelf now. Do you have a comfortable chair? Do you have a copy of Thomas King's Green Grass, Running Water and Kiki's Delivery Service in your system? Will my license suffice, and, and, AND, are you open? 

Oh? How late?


  1. While my library is not better than yours, I get to sleep with a librarian...I think that scores well, for me personally.
    But hey, we're expanding our children's section and that is going to be super awesome!

    1. I'm tempted to say that perhaps then you are better at making full use of what your library has to offer than most people, but I'm way too shy to say something like that.

      While our children's room may be the section of the library I visit least, when I go to other libraries I find they are often the most interesting places. So I wish your children's room well. Of course, I hope it's open a lot.

  2. Wait, what was that first comment about? Our librarians do not provide such services! What's up with that?!

    1. It's probably one of them European libraries.


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