I recently had a conversation with the Lower School Librarian (LSL) at MPOW about our Book Fair – I was passing along information about requests from the parents and, since they organize, run and benefit from the Fair, we need to pay attention to their comments/suggestions/complaints (within reason, of course).
This conversation led to two different sub-topics, and we got a little heated. The first was a community in California finally offering free Internet at the public library. LSL is completely against the idea of paying for this service in a public library; I can see their point (note:I don’t know which community this is, or what their reasons were). Now, before you get all upset and angsty, hear me out. The internet has costs: maintaining the routers/wiring/computers, as well as paying for the connection (be it dial-up or T-1). It’s not a freebie for the library. Starbucks’ vaunted wifi comes with a cost (I’ve paid T-Mobile for access when sipping a latte). At home I pay $45/month (vs. the $19.95 I paid for my dial-up) to surf whenever/where ever. People know this. If a community – which supports the public library via taxes – isn’t willing to up the budget, but wants internet at the library, well, somebody’s going to pay. Why not the user? Seems logical to me. I know that librarians are supposed to be all about access and openness, but at what price? Perhaps that money helped keep the library open longer hours, or provided one additional staff position, or even just broke even on making the internet available. Is that so wrong? I suspect most of my peers would resoundingly say “hell, yes, that’s wrong”. But before we condemn, let’s see why the decision was made and put ourselves in those shoes.
The other subtopic was the Children’s Room and Children’s Borrowing Cards. When I was a lit’un in Smalltown, I used to go to Small City’s library. There, in the basement, was the Children’s Room and that was where I could borrow books. If I’d wanted a book from the Adult Section, my parents would have had to come with me and approve my selection. LSL had a problem with this. Now, in our daily lives as school librarians, we prohibit students from doing just this – why is it so wrong in a public library? I know few school librarians serving the K-4 crowd that would have, for example, an A-List book or even Gone With The Wind on their shelves. Many of my peers working with grades 5-8 ponder the appropriateness of a book like Tangerine, or much of the manga that’s out there. We put it into subcollections… we label it YA… we try to steer the younger students to materials that are more appropriate for their age group. Should their parents want (or allow), they can read what ever they want. So, why say having a separate section, a separate card for young patrons in a public library is wrong? (and yes, I know that ALA thinks this is wrong – ALA isn’t always infallible).
As I’m writing this, I’ve locked down my wifi so that none of my neighbors can use it. In part that’s for security, and in part it’s because I’m paying $45/month and if they want to use it, they can offer to help pay. I’m also writing this as someone who, at the age of 10, read Victoria Holt’s Mistress of Mellyn (with my parent’s knowledge). What would I do if I were in charge of a public library in a small town/village/city? You guess.