Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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What would you do?

Posted by lpearle on 20 May 2007

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.

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3 Responses to “What would you do?”

  1. camillofan said

    I’m in favor of children’s cards; if my kids want something their cards don’t entitle them to, and I don’t disapprove, I’ll get it for them on my card.Pay-per-use internet is a tricky one, though. It’s a regressive tax, really. Imagine if we started renting out the books!

  2. Aravis said

    Interesting.All of the small local libraries around here provide free internet. I don’t know what the library boards allot to them, so I can’t answer to that. I just know that I wouldn’t pay for internet in one library if I could get it free in another.I had the same experience with Children’s sections that you had. In the larger libraries, there was a different room, different check-out area. In the smaller library, the whole place is easily viewed by the librarian as she sits at her desk. There’s no way the kids could (or can) get into age-inappropriate books without being caught by the librarian. I see nothing wrong with these separations in a public library. I would think it would be a little less of an issue in a school, though I can see the need to keep an eye on children/middle reader/YA distinctions at times.

  3. bri said

    My mother allowed me to read whatever and thus I was reading Mommy Dearest at age 7. This may seem a cautionary tale, but we do allow GMB to read whatever he wants. And to view whatever he wants on the Internet, actually. That’s probably no surprise – we are uber liberal parents in most ways.I am not sure how I feel about the children’s cards. Pretty much opposed because I think kids should be able to learn about sex and homosexuality and such without fear that their parents will find out and make them feel crappy. I wish that it could all be left up to parents, but I believe there are a lot of wrong-minded parents out there. Sure, parents have a right to say what their kids learn. To a degree. But that uber liberal in me worries about the brainwashing aspects – if kids can’t get access to anything that opposes their parents’ points of view on the world, they may already be scary automaton zombies when grown and allowed that access.I agree with the first commenter – the books cost money, too. I think free Internet is absolutely part of the deal in a public library. Maybe I say that because it has been a blessing for my mother-in-law to go use the free Internet at the library rather than tying up my computer. Heh.And we don’t lock our wireless connection at home. Admittedly there are a few pieces to this – I had a ton of trouble getting GMB’s PC to connect when I used a password so I gave up. Then I decided it didn’t matter since Wes’ work pays for our Internet and there’s something lovely in spreading that around. And then I decided I didn’t care and would spread it around anyway, even if I were paying, until a real problem with my bandwidth or something comes along.

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