Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I've decided to talk a bit more about libraries in my blog, particularly since my reviews are no longer being posted here in full. First and foremost on any librarian's mind these days is funding. Along with cuts to essential services like education, police, and fire departments, many municipalities have chosen to cut funding to libraries or simply close them. Regardless of where the tax revenue comes from, those revenues are falling at a time when they need to cover more costs than ever.

But why should you care if your public library closes it doors? That's what the internet is for, right? If you're a fine upstanding citizen, you can buy your books and other media from Amazon or Barnes and Noble, both of whom will ship them right to your door. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and even cable companies like Comcast will let you stream movies and television shows. If you're a rather shadier character than that, you can pirate all manner of material. I read these arguments online far too often, and there are a few problems with them. First, piracy is morally and legally frowned upon. If too many people pirate too much material, that will limit the creation of new material, because it will no longer be profitable for anyone involved. Granted, piracy may need to be taken to the extreme to cause that kind of damage, but it is possible. Second, it requires that everyone have a computer (or other electronic device) and the internet. Third, this supposes that you have an unlimited amount of money at your disposal for your entertainment.

Because I'm most familiar with the library system I work for, I'm going to throw some of our numbers at you. Yes, this is one specific example, and is not a representative sampling from libraries across the country. But I hope it will give you an idea about how much a bargain your local library is. My library is a district library system consisting of 13 branches. We are funded by a millage on property taxes that is renewed by the municipalities we serve every few years. While some people will pay more towards the library and others will pay less, all based on how much their property is worth, we charge non-residents (who are not paying taxes into the system) a $50/year fee. This is meant to represent what they might expect to pay, on average, should they move within our service area. Once upon a time this was a rather low estimate, but with the drop in property tax values we've seen in my community, I'm guessing that it is now a more accurate number.

On the internet, without unusual deals or promotions and using only legal suppliers, $50 will get you:
  • about 3 new hardcover books OR
  • about 6 new paperbacks OR
  • about 1 new audio-book OR
  • about 2 new DVDs, or 2 new BluRays OR
  • about 4 new CDs OR
  • about 1 month of cable internet OR
  • about 6 months of basic Netflix, steaming or DVD by mail only.
I'm not going to try and work out how much you could buy in just electronic formats: prices are too scattered between big names and small names, and somewhat between vendors.

Now, $50 at my library will get you the following:
  • the ability to check out up to 50 items at a time, including up to 10 movies (VHS, DVD, and/or BluRay formats), 10 CDs, and 10 audio-books (in cassette tape, CD, and/or MP3 formats), AND electronic downloads (books and audio-books in several formats depending on publisher) as well as traditional books and magazines.
  • access to over 700 different library collections as part of the Michigan Electronic Library System (an inter-loan/co-operative program between Michigan Libraries). Materials are requested online, and are then shipped to your home library free of charge.
  • up to three hours a day of computer time, in one hour increments.
  • free WiFi
  • free computer classes, ranging from basics to advanced word processing, social media, and e-book downloads
  • free tutors for adults and children, including ESOL classes and Citizenship classes
  • free public showings of movies
  • free lectures on various topics
  • free children's programming such as story time, crafts, and performances.
  • free book clubs
  • free professional help for research, or just help selecting your next book based on what you've read and liked previously.
And that's just the basics, and only the first three truly require a library card. We're stretching your $50 rather far, and goes way beyond the non-fiction section most people think of when they think of a library.

I encourage you to check out your local library's offerings, and also take a gander at a non-profit group called Geek the Library, which does public awareness about Library funding across the country.


Post a Comment