Posts Tagged ‘American Library Association’


Library theft results in jail time

The Associated Press is reporting that Brian Linebach is facing five years in prison for second-degree theft by failing to return 40 books and DVDs to the Kirkendall Public Library of Ankeny, Iowa. I can empathize — with the library.

Fifteen years ago, when I worked for Blockbuster Video, movies were released exclusively to rental outlets on VHS for $100/copy. It was only months later that these tapes became available to consumers at a more reasonable rate. Before DVDs turned that market upside-down, losing a copy of a movie was an expensive proposition, which is why BBV required credit card numbers on record for each of its customers: should a product disappear, its value could be reimbursed.

Libraries show their patrons much more faith: expensive books and videos can be borrowed with no more credential than a driver's license. That information is no guarantee against theft, and though DVDs are cheaper to replace now than VHS tapes once were, libraries lack the financial backing of multimedia conglomerates with which to do so. I tried to find some statistics about library material return rates, but the ALA's exhaustive Web site, which was instrumental in researching my recent column for Worcester Magazine, doesn't have any obvious reports on this data. Nonetheless, anyone who uses the public library to donate to his own collection has things backward, to the detriment of his community.

Why Mr. Linebach didn't return the products once confronted, or how long they were overdue, I don't know. But it could've been worse — imagine the penalties George Washington would pay for books 221 years overdue!


Local libraries' budgetary issues — and solutions

A few months ago, I was driving through Bolton and stopped to check out their expansion to the public library. It's a beautiful and natural extension of their existing building that is proportionate to the community's needs.


The visit had me wondering how it is that the Bolton, Leominster, and Worcester libraries have all afforded to expand in a decade when library budgets are being slashed by dangerous amounts. The answer was obvious — such expansions were planned well before the current economic crisis — but this question led to others about the budgetary issues being faced by local libraries and how they're coping. I decided it was an issue that warranted further investigation.

Fortunately, my social circle includes many librarian and literary people who were willing to engage me on this topic. I spoke with both CMRLS librarian Carolyn Noah and New York Times best-selling author R. A. Salvatore, two people who had previously spoken to each other on the topic of library funding (see time index 2:54 – 3:52 especially). I was also fortunate to speak with Christine Drew for her perspective as an academic librarian at WPI.

The result is "Bad economy checks us out of libraries", an editorial that ran in Worcester Magazine on Apr 22, 2010. It appears almost entirely intact, except for this sentence in Mr. Salvatore's interview: "Would there be some equitable way to consolidate town libraries into regional ones?" Of the entire piece, this is the most provocative proposal and the one with the greatest potential to cure what ails local libraries. As one concerned citizen recently told me, "It isn't good stewardship to duplicate services in towns [so] close … even in a good economy."

Independently, PCWorld.com recently suggested that libraries should take this opportunity to reinvent themselves as not just archivists, but studios and producers of original content by local artists. This approach similarly requires a community-oriented mindset in which content creators collaborate, not compete, with their neighbors. Is it possible?

Whatever fate befalls libraries, we cannot allow such a valuable institution to disappear. From a purely financial perspective, libraries offer an unparalleled return on investment. Cutting their funding to save the economy would be "like cutting West Point from the military pipeline to reduce the defense budget" — it's incredibly short-sighted. These are not easy times to live in, which means making hard decisions. Let's make sure they're the right ones.


Banned Books Week

Over on her blog, Tech_Space, Angela Gunn is doing a phenomenal job defending intellectual freedom as she celebrates Banned Book Week. It's an important occasion that needs to be observed, as the younger generations don't seem to be doing so. CNN reported a few years ago that students lack enough civic knowledge and common sense to recognize the First Amendment for the unassailable foundation of this country that it should be: "… when told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes 'too far' in the rights it guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories."

I once had a high school teacher who told us, "Tom Sawyer used to be one of the most dangerous books in the country." When a parent unthinkingly took this statement literally without recognizing what wasn't being spelled out — that the book used to be considered dangerous — he called for the teacher's resignation. If you don't know who to praise more — the teacher for including such a book in the curriculum, or the parent for his zero tolerance against censorship — I'll give you a hint: it's the one who showed more thought. That's what freedom from censorship is all about: freedom to think. And if you haven't learned that from a book, go watch Dead Poets Society or Mr. Holland's Opus. Then come back here and read Angela's rightful rants: