Thursday, December 01, 2011

Who decides what a library should be? Those who use it or those who pay for it?

Within a week I've read that two our finest public library systems are confronting challenges to their very being by the very bodies that fund them.

On Tuesday it was reported that Toronto's Budget Chief questioned whether the the Toronto Public Library should be lending out movies or non-English materials and suggested that by cutting these collections, the TPL could maintain it's hours of service. Presumedly, the mission of the library is just to serve up books in English, because according to the budget chief, it's a bad thing if a library is a community centre.

This is how the City of Toronto rewards the TPL for being the second-most used library system in the world.

Meanwhile, the focus of the New York Public System is currently in flux as it appears that the board of trustees is investing in future that serves less books to scholars and provides more space to the public.

Here's the sad tale from my own backyard: the building that houses the central branch of the public library is deemed no longer "modern enough" for a library, but strangely, modern enough to host a call-center that was threatening to leave the City of Windsor if it's needs were not subsidized by the city.

Of course, it's all more complicated than that and I do recognize this. A building filled with books never read is a crypt, not a library. And on the other end of the spectrum, if you are spending all your time looking for sponsors for events and content that will attract the widest number of people, then you are probably in the entertainment business.

Still, there's a commonality to these three stores. Those who are paying for the library are trying to call the tune; what's inside the library is no longer the domain of the librarian.

I think I would prefer the library to be shaped by those who use it... if just for the reason that they are more likely to see us as a community centre than a cost centre... or call centre.


Barbara said...

A curious feature of the NYPL story is that they are wanting to invite more of the public into the research library and use space occupied by stacks for that purpose - but are closing and selling a big library practically across the street (the Mid-Manhattan branch) as well as the science and business branch in Manhattan which was a decade ago being touted as the hot new thing. With two libraries down, one has to be remodeled for the "the people" who used the other two quite heavily. (Full disclosure, I haven't lived in NYC since fall 2000. I used all three libraries. So did lots of other people.)

Mita said...

Sorry - I had meant to say thank you to your this additional context much sooner.