Illinois Library Debate

Published July 2, 2010 by LS Murphy

Several people are up in arms about Anna Davlantes report regarding the necessity of public libraries. With good reason. But I think that there is no need to worry about your local library. Yet.

First and foremost, Illinois has a serious budget problem. Years of crappy leadership and wasting money have come to this: reporters desperate to get a rise out of the public. And Davlantes succeeded. If this was a serious piece of journalism, Davlantes would have spent more than an hour watching more than one library. Furthermore, if Ms. Davlantes did her research properly, she would be able to attest to what each and every on of those 300 people did while at the library. To quote the test:

“So we decided to check it out. We used an undercover camera to see how many people used the library and what were they doing.

In an hour, we counted about 300 visitors. Most of them were using the free internet. The bookshelves? Not so much.”

Read it again, word for word. They used ONE camera. Apparently that one camera kept track of each one of the 300 people.  Furthermore, we don’t know where that camera was placed. I’m betting it was looking at the computers and not the stacks of books. “Most of them” is another phrase I have a problem with. I want to know how many. Could she not keep track? And how many of the internet users went to the stacks afterwords? We don’t know. And I don’t think Ms. Davlantes does either.

Second, I don’t believe libraries are going away any time soon. But they are changing. Publishing is changing. Electronic readers and electronic books are becoming more popular. Libraries will have to change with the technology. Just like we will.

Finally, the state of Illinois has a serious problem. Just yesterday, minimum wage raised to $8.25 an hour. That’s a dollar higher than the national minimum wage. I’m not going to argue about the  cost of living and earning a livable wage here. My point is that Missouri and Indiana both have minimum wage at $7.25. In other words, jobs can leave the state to save money. Illinois loses out.

Libraries in Illinois may have to accept that budget cuts are on the way. Cutting hours, which in turn would cut payroll would be the first step. And, unfortunately, cutting the number of books that they buy. Ye, that may seem like it defeats the purpose but with interlibrary loans there is no reason why two libraries twenty miles apart both need a copy of the latest Dan Brown book. They can share. And they don’t need multiple copies either. Wait lists may get crazy but if that’s the price to keep my library, so be it.

While Anna Davlantes’ report was poor, there is some merit to the argument about reducing the budget. In a financially sound world, we wouldn’t have to worry about it. Unfortunately, that is not the case now. Everyone, including your favorite librarian, is going to have to make sacrifices. There is no other choice.

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