Tuesday, October 25, 2016

PL Online: The Secret Dream of Librarians

I have been writing for Public Libraries online. It's all a little iffy at the point I write this. But this was published on their website. And since you weren't likely to see it there I, now that I am allowed to, publish it here for you to see. Actually this version is the pre edit version, and I like it better because I am allowed to ramble more. On the down side it's context is more confusing here, so keep in mind that Public Libraries Online is keen on some very boring "professional development" kinds of articles.

I recently came across an article in The New York Times about libraries. Having a keen interest in libraries and much experience with working in one I decided to read the article. As is the modern custom, this article had a clickbait headline. And though I am keen to feel superior to the cheesy desperation of clickbait headlines, the article you're reading now, this one, probably has a clickbait headline too. As any librarian can tell you, these days no one will read of their own free will. They must be tricked into it. I haven't decided what my clickbait headline will be yet, maybe something like "E Product Management" or "ALA's New Guidelines for Web Services", something that will leave you breathless in anticipation. I mean, only if someone isn't using those headlines on this site already. 

Someone is probably using those headlines on this site already, but you can hardly expect me to link to them and risk losing you few readers who have been tricked into reading this much of my article as it is.

The clickbait headline the New York Times used was Why Libraries Are Everywhere in the Czech Republic.

A normal person wouldn't find that to be a clickbait headline and would simply say to themselves "Probably because of some law passed in the early 1900's soon after Czechoslovakia emerged as an independent country." And then they would move right along in the Internet to see if anyone has come up with a new potato chip flavor lately.

But we in the library community are not normal people.

You, especially, seem pretty odd to me.

I mean that in a good way.

And when we in the library community read "Why Libraries Are Everywhere in the Czech Republic" our hearts start racing. Our eyes bulge alarmingly from our sockets. We begin trembling. We are excited! 

And the reason we are so excited is because we hold in our hearts a secret dream, a vision that we dare not name. We know it's mad. We don't speak of it even among ourselves, sometimes not even to ourselves. 

Actually this would make a really good clickbait title for this article: What the Secret Dream is that all Library Workers Share but Will Never Admit.
I'm going to tell you right now.

Any second now. I'm building anticipation.

This is it: 

We secretly believe that the whole world should be a library.

We secretly believe that we should be able to borrow everything for free. Just so long as we bring it back. 

It should mostly be books though.

Books, clothes, cars, books, power tools, furniture, telephones, books, glassware, pens, cleaning supplies, Caravaggio paintings, houses, and books. If store after store in my city were, every single one of them, libraries loaning all these things, along with books, if every house on my block were a library house that I could check out for three weeks, I'm not sure I'd really need to own anything. There is your strange paradise, maybe even a secret restatement of reality itself: 

The world is really a library. Everything is free. But everything is borrowed.

Here is how clickbait really works. It leads you into imagining something wild and wonderful. It may not even be conscious, but it sets your heart aiming for the stars. And then when you click, and that clickbait article is fleshed out, you are left with the corpse of your mighty dream. It sits deflated in your hands and you feel so embarrassed that you ever hoped for so much that you go ahead and read the article like it was all perfectly reasonable all along and never broke your heart at all.

Libraries aren't everywhere in The Czech Republic. 

In 1919 they had a law in Czechoslovakia saying that every community, no matter how small, had to have a library.

Well, that's not so bad, I guess. I can live with that.

Oh, except they got rid of that law 15 years ago and lost 11 percent of their libraries since then.

Here is a fun fact for you: The New York Times could have written equally accurate articles with either of the following two headlines:

Why Libraries Are Everywhere in the Czech Republic


Why over 600 libraries have closed in the Czech Republic

At this point you are probably wondering "What does he have against this innocent article in The New York Times about Czech libraries?

It's a long list, so I've decided to go with just this one thing. Sure it's petty, but you should see how petty the rest of my list is. 

At some point in the not very long New York Times article we come to the following paragraph:

 “Czechs developed a strong reading habit, and even today, those who visit libraries buy more books — 11 a year, on average — than others,” said Vit Richter, director of the Librarianship Institute of the Czech National Library.
I don't know about these budget slashing Czechs, but at my library we've got tons of books. One doesn't buy them. We loan them out for free. That's sort of the point. 

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