Friday, December 23, 2016

King of the library nine

The "If I Were King of the Library" project was begun so many decades ago on this blog that some of you who only started following along with me here in the past few months or years may not be acquainted with it. Others may have forgotten about it after months of my inactivity. And still others of you may be grabbing your little computer screen, shaking it in fury, and screaming "It's about time you did another King of the Library! I have been waiting forever!"

Excuse me. I apologize. I got brain fever. While in Africa. Hunting powerful ancient relics. And, um, saving the world with magic and bravery and adventures. But I don't want to brag, or make excuses.

I do believe that on the deeply neglected (by me) sidebar of my blog (located at, where you may even now be) I still keep a set of links to my collection of "King of the Library" posts. While the title of this project is, I feel, self explanatory, I refuse to let that stop me from explaining. I will not be silenced by the mere bullying fact that nothing need be said! 


I will not be bullied into silence by the fact that nothing need be said.

And so "King of the Library" is a series of policy mandates, mercurial ideas, and staff perks I would institute if I were given a liege-like power over my library system. It should be noted that I have not been given this power and so my library system is nowhere near as wonderful as it could be. I haven't even been given a tiny crumb from the table of power at my library, which is why my library system is not as good as it could be. But I have, on occasion, and through a colossal amount of ingenuity, effort, craftiness, and force of will on my part, taken, no, stolen the shadow of a crumb of power at my library, which is why my library system manages to be pretty good, despite itself, at least partly.

So far my proclamations have included procedural, work related issues (everybody shelves), a host of intricate, adventurous, and involving collection development and display proclamations, and one proclamation that put a sushi bar in our break room. Today's proclamation ventures into new territory by being higher level, more boring, slightly political, and a little sad. It is sad because I shouldn't have to waste a proclamation on something like this. Once upon a time what I am making into a law was largely true in my library system. In many library systems, especially smaller ones, it probably is still mostly true.

I better tell you the proclamation.

The library shall pay no company to do its work. We employ people, never companies.

That's it. We can hire janitors, but never a janitorial service. We can sell weeded and donated books to raise money, but we never give these books to a company to sell for a share of their profits. No one chooses or processes our books for us. To every extent possible we fix our own machines, write our own software, and do our own plumbing.

In my library system, one large enough to employ well over a hundred people, the fact that we have switched to a paid janitorial service is, well, I don't want to get everyone all worked up because we will end up talking about Republicans and Nazis and the end of the world, and then there's yelling and lot's of gesticulating and rash words about the library management.

I don't want to upset anyone with rash words concerning library management. Not to mention Nazis. Not to mention Nazi Management.

So I retreat to my private fiefdom of dreams and fantasy Kingships, and I write proclamations. But I must say that when a government organization of any kind, anywhere, hires a company to do their job, or one of their jobs, they are functionally saying that they are unable to do it themselves. This is the point at which they should politely be asked to leave. I am perfectly happy to bemoan government waste. The solution to that is a lean, motivated, non hierarchical staff. It is not hiring what effectively amounts to the workers you need through intermediaries, and so also, by hiring a company, hiring a second set of managers, second payroll, a second human resources department, and one new Capitalist boss whose job it is to extract profit out of it all for himself.

Oops. We weren't going to do this with all the gesticulating. We're just here to issue a proclamation. 

We're a library. We are a do it yourself operation. That is our law. Also I'm king. I don't have to tremble with righteous outrage when I can stamp out this nonsense with a stroke of my pen. It's no good for our kingly back to fret. I can make the library as I see fit. And I would like to extend this passion against privatization as far as possible. Yes, we'll have to buy books from publishers, but even there we have made a previous decree, the fourth decree that involved adding local, unpublished items to our collection. Can we make our own furniture? I don't know, but it's on the table. Hmm. And when it comes to software and e-book collections we should be working with libraries across the country cooperatively to build, open source, the programs we need, tailored to us and flexible.

Once again we are back to a common theme here. There is real value in the homemade and the bespoke in a library. That value will come through to the patrons, to the engagement of the employees and volunteers, and to the health of the community.

And so it is decreed, this day, etc. etc.

Feldenstein Calypso, King of the Library 


  1. Replies
    1. I'll try to live long, and maybe come up with some glamorous proclamations to the benefit of library volunteers.


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