Yet Another Way 2009 Is Not a Good Year

Athena had a hair appointment yesterday that was going to be a long one, so we swung by the library to get her a book to read, whereupon we discovered that for the forseeable future, the library is closed on Wednesdays. It’s also now closed on Saturdays (and Sundays, but it was always was closed on Sunday) and opens on 11am instead of 9am on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Why? Because library funds were slashed 30% statewide, that’s why, and that was from an already lean budget for libraries. Something had to give. So what gave were Wednesdays, Saturdays and two hours in the morning three days out of four.

To be sure, libraries are not the only public service feeling the strain in Ohio (and in other states) this year. But libraries are close to my heart, for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. Basically: This recession sucks.

I have more thoughts on this, but I’ll save them for some other time. Consider this just a minor bit of venting.

156 Comments on “Yet Another Way 2009 Is Not a Good Year”

  1. I heard through a freind that something similar, but more draconian was happening in Philly.

    Bad year to be a librarian.

  2. You’re right. It stinks.

    And if Republicans run your state, they’ll fight putting the library funding back in when times are better. They’ll make up some excuse for this, but the real reason will be that Republicans are fundamentally opposed to public libraries, because they allow the lower classes to educate themselves.

  3. Saturdays? Wow. That’s rough on people who work during the week. Or children who go to school during the week. One has to wonder whether the Saturday cut has anything to do with making sure the public knows the budget was cut, at the expense of serving the public.

    I know this summer they cut the hours at our Post Office. So if you needed window service, not only could you not go in before a typical 8-5 work day, or after — you also couldn’t go during lunch when they closed for an hour.

    As much as I hate how this economy went sour, and hate the budget cuts for services that people really use, I hate more when services get manipulated to make a point, instead of providing, you know, service.

    Libraries. Sigh.

    Dr. Phil

  4. Libraries aren’t the only victims. My town here in the UK had three bookstores – Waterstones, Books Etc, and WH Smith. The latter is lousy for sci-fi but is good for magazines, papers, and bestsellers.
    At the beginning of Oct, our Books Etc closed. It was like losing an old friend. I was in it the first day it opened and had been a steady customer since.
    Watertones is decent – it even stocks some of the Scalzi novels. However, having the choice was good since if one store didn’t have what you wanted the other one usually did.
    I foresee Amazon UK getting more of my hard-earned cash in the future as I can be pretty sure they will have what I want.

  5. I’ve never really understood libraries for the average person… What’s the point really? A book costs so little, you could save up for one by picking up quarters on the sidewalk. Even in a recession it’s affordable. I think they’re nice for people who can’t afford books of course. And I digg the thought of all that knowledge in one place (although teh internetz kinda beats it, physical books are way more hawt).

  6. That’s weird. The system I work for, there’s some kind of requirement for availability on weekends during the school year. I always thought it was necessary to get federal money, but maybe it’s a state thing. Actually, Saturday may be the one time all of our 35 branches are open at once.

    We had our crisis a few years ago. We had to close a bunch of branches and cut down open hours in places. We still haven’t come back all the way, but at least we’re past the point where deciding to do one new thing means not doing two old things.

  7. Oh man, I feel for you. I spent, what, 16 years working for a public library system, from my teens to early thirties, starting SubPress in the last few years I was there. I was witness to some terrible but necessary cuts in service, staff, etc., until a very modestly expanded millage passed.

    Which led to other problems, but that’s a screed I’ll not go into right now.

    It’s no fun being on either end of that equation.


  8. je.lias–

    I think the thing a lot of us forget is that new books cost anywhere from $8-$30, and if you have a child who likes to read a book a week (I knew kids who read 3-5 per week), this will put even the normal families in a financial bind. I remember going to the library as a kid to sift through the reference books on things like sharks, volcanos, quasars… I never would have been able to purchase all of these books, and might not know how to find good info on the net, or even have internet access. (People use the library for net access, too.)

    I was also a relatively poor kid, so I know what it’s like to not be able to buy your own books, but we already know that the poor are affected by this.

    Libraries really are crucial to kids being able to self educate depending on their interests :). With cuts in the school systems, don’t we need this? Isn’t it important?

  9. je.lias:

    “A book costs so little, you could save up for one by picking up quarters on the sidewalk.”

    There are apparently a lot more quarters on sidewalks where you live, je.lias, than where I do.

    Less facetiously, books are indeed relatively inexpensive, but that doesn’t mean I want to have to buy every single book I want to read (especially for research purposes in my case), and so it’s nice to have a library handy. Also, people occasionally start reading an author from library books and convert to buying them afterwards. There are all sorts of reasons the “average” person will use a library, in other words. And that’s just covering the books without getting into the other things libraries do.

  10. je.lias @5

    When my kids were toddlers, we checked out about 75 books a weeks. Try paying for that with quarters. If half of them were favorites . . . half of them weren’t.

    I’ve always appreciated libraries, but never so much as when I had insatiable little book monsters in the house. Even now that they are older, we check out ten or twelve new books a week. Maybe you have more money than I do, je.lias, or maybe you don’t read as much.

    May we see the new ‘do?

  11. I work with a lot of local government entities, and I gotta tell you — the areas where the library has been spun off into its own taxing authority are really happy right about now. Your average taxpayer, faced with a request for a one percent increase in the Library Levy, supports it just about every time.

    Contrast that with a library that’s part of a city or county, where every tax increase request triggers a reaction of “Why don’t you just cut {stupid program I don’t support} instead?”

    And cutting Saturday hours is very likely a variation of the “Washington Monument” effect, much like a Public Works department deciding that they can’t fill potholes on Main Street because their overworked crews are all exhausted from their grueling work out on the edge of town.

    P.S. to Xopher: Please don’t baselessly ascribe bad faith to your political opponents. It’s functionally equivalent to “Democrats will never cut taxes, because they support Robin Hood-style class warfare,” and it’s unhelpful when trying to maintain a higher level of discourse.

  12. We have just one bookstore here in town. It has a lousy selection of sci-fi/fantasy. It seems to be more of a coffee shop with a few books than the other way around.

    So the Library is the best way to books. Ours has been lucky to escape drastic cuts. I’m sure those are coming though. It doesn’t have the greatest selection, but its a good environment to browse and test out new authors. Plus Interlibrary Loan rocks.

  13. @5 je.lias:

    An average paperback will run you at least seven or eight bucks these days. Assuming you read two books a week (probably low for Whatever readers) that comes to about $70/month. Between my wife and two sons, we’d *easily* go through $300/month. That’s not a trivial amount of money.

    And that’s only pleasure reading. Tack on reading for school, work, research, etc and we have to spend a decent percentage of our income to match the services provided by our library.

  14. To #5’s comments:

    The concept of the library is in the same vein as that of public education. Removing barriers to education and literacy helps to promote an educated and literate population. With very few exceptions, a literate and educated population is generally a much better idea then the opposite.

    I went to my library two days ago in preparation for a long trip with a lot of flight time involved and was able to get several books to both help me learn more about my destination and also to help keep me entertained during the trip. I did a quick total on the cost of those books from the covers and 5 books would have run me almost $100 dollars to buy outright. Without a library, I probably would have been able to reasonably afford 2 books or maybe 3 if you count buying a travel guide several years out of date at a used-book store as a reasonable alternative.

    I and my family are lucky and can afford the occasional new book, but between a 6 year old who can go through 5 kids books on a Saturday and my own rather voracious reading habits, it is wonderful to not have to balance going to the grocery store against buying books to help my son continue to grow his reading skills. Even, or especially, kids books are not cheap and it is during this period that I think a reader can be most easily lost or created.

  15. @DrPhil- Well, if citizens don’t feel the pain of these cuts, they aren’t going to make any effort to fix it. (Ex. continue to vote for public servants because they promise deep tax cuts, without really connecting taxes=useful services, thus less tax=less service.) As inconvenient as those manipulations are, the point does need to be made.

    Which is, of course, not to say this particular piece of suck happened specifically because voters don’t understand cause&effect. At this time, cuts are probably happening because the amount of things to tax has shrunk. Still. Something to think about.

  16. The way Ohio structures its library tax is INSANE. Apparently it was intended to make Library funding more ‘fair’ across the state, but it leaves Libraries open to political manipulation. (Because if you cut libraries first, the taxpayer will say “wait! I’ll give a bit more!” If you cut mid-level govt. worker pensions and salaries, no one cares. It’s all about keeping govt. jobs safe.)

  17. How are libraries funded? Through property tax? You are pretty wealthy guy, maybe you could buy a bigger house!

  18. @ je.lias, #5: Are you kidding? A new paperback book costs around $8 these days; that’s a lot of quarters to scavenge. And then if you get it home, start reading, and discover in the middle of page 60 that you really don’t like it, you’re pretty much stuck. Not to mention that if you shopped in a bookstore to get it, your selection was quite limited to begin with.

    Hardcover books are more expensive, which means you’re even more screwed if you buy one and then don’t enjoy it. Besides which, in these tough economic times, there are a lot of people for whom the $8 or $25 they’d spend on a book under better circumstances really needs to go to paying bills and buying groceries instead.

    (None of the above should be construed to mean that I have anything less than full support for the idea that, ideally, the reading public should be encouraged to buy books. But economic realities do have to be taken into account, and what may well be a pittance to Jane Doe could be a week of lunches to Joe Streetcorner.)

    And then there are children to be considered. While it may be less common now than 25 years ago, kids still use the library as a resource for things like writing papers and researching projects for school, and the reading groups and other children’s programming offered by most libraries has long been immensely valuable to the parents of young children.

    Not to mention the fact that the CD and DVD collections at the public library are a godsend for the individual or family on a tight budget who nevertheless want to enjoy movies and music other than whatever may be in their personal collection at home.

  19. John, maybe je.lias was talking about begging. “Will work for books.” Well, really, that’s what I do – work for books to read. If I could just make that transition into “Will read for books,” I think I’d be set.

  20. I for one would miss my library access. I don’t actually get a lot of books at my library (I buy most of them), as I use it more for research (what I can’t find on the net) and audiobooks. The audiobooks are so much better than regular or satelite radio for the trip to work or a weekend trip. I could never exprience them if it wasn’t for the library, as audiobooks are far too expensive to buy.

    Reducing library access does suck. However, at least some part of our government is cutting back, as opposed to spending more. At some point we have to make hard choices. It appears Ohio, or at least your part of Ohio, is making the hard choices, which will get us out of this mess sooner.

  21. Here in the Cincinnati area, we have a small (1 mill) levy on the November ballot that, if passed, would replace some of the state funding lost over the past year or two. So if you live in Hamilton County, OH, vote “Yes” on Issue 7!

    Either that, or we can head up to je.lias’s town to scoop up some of the quarters they keep dropping on their sidewalks. ;-)

  22. The public library is closed on Saturdays? That’s goofy. My public library is going through the budget cuts, too, but the extra day we closed was Friday–still emphatically not good, but better than the weekend!

  23. Libraries are some of my favorite places. The local library is where I discovered Old Man’s War, and where I proceeded to find more books written by John.

    Whenever I go there, it’s busy. Lately I am seeing more and more people using the computers and reading the magazines and books. I am currently playing a PS3 game I got from the library.

    Even the local paper has run an article noting that as the economy has gotten worse, the library has gotten busier. I live in Michigan, and the unemployment rate is bad here. The library provides free books and a warm place to be.

    Libraries are where I picked up a big part of my education. It’s amazing what you can find when you explore the stacks.

  24. Not even sure what to say about this, just another bit of the commons being done away with. I’ve almost concluded that now is way worse than the 80’s ever were. At least back then there was an attempt to justify greed and narcissism. Now these same attributes are simply foisted upon the commons as the most expedient method of obtaining their own limited returns.

  25. je.lias@5: In this economy, even for “average” families, the internetz is one of those “nice to haves” that people are cutting back on, making libraries even more necessary for things like kids researching papers for school. And for people out of working and looking for a job, free internet access at libraries lets them use e-mail and, etc, to get back on their feet. Just not on Wednesdays and Saturdays…

  26. Time to break out the pocketbook and pony up.

    My own local library is experiencing its own budget problems. Think of it as an opportunity to help keep your community functioning.

  27. As a librarian, I understand the need for austerity when the budget has gone in the toilet, but so many of the present budget cuts are being done at the expense of public projects to benefit everyone. Road repairs? No money. Public schools are closing and having their teachers furloughed 2 days a month because there isn’t enough money to keep paying them full salary, and if that isn’t shooting yourself in the foot… Furloughs are on the horizon for Yours Truly as well.

    What gripes me is that once the budget crisis has eventually been resolved, it will be an uphill battle to reinstate the public benefits to anywhere near previous levels. The ‘haves’ will say, why should we pay for that service when we can get it better privately, while the ‘have-nots’ don’t have the money to get it at all.

  28. The library in my town just had to limit hours too, and sent out a plea for direct donations. They are a tax-deductible charity according to the paperwork, so a good idea and a tax break. Our library was one of the last to be hit, as Stephen King lives in our town and has substantially funded repairs and other costs.

  29. I volunteer at our local community library, which had to be brought back from the dead when our county decided we didn’t need one anymore. We run on Community donations entirely and can only be open a couple of afternoons a week, but it’s wonderful to see how much our little town appreciates it being open again at all.

    I wish that more communities would decide that these resources need to be more of a priority. In this recession, we need these more than ever.

    And Scalzi, you will be happy to know that someone had donated the entire Old Man’s War series, except for Zoe’s Tale which I’m planning to buy when I finish Last Colony, and then donate (if I can bring myself to give it away).

    So far, it’s just me and the one guy in town who still belongs to the Science Fiction Book Club keeping the sci-fi section alive.

  30. Jess @19

    Hmm. Hey, do regular public libraries take donations? Is it possible to give directly to them?

    They certainly do. I’m ridiculously pleased that our role playing club is the 3rd largest donor to our local library (at ~13K).

  31. @19 Jess: My library does take cash donations (I believe they’re a 501(c)(3) org for that purpose, too), and also accepts donations of printed/recorded media. Books and DVDs in near-new or better condition are added to the library’s collection, if needed. Those that aren’t, or that are less well-preserved, become part of the offerings at their monthly book/media sale (all proceeds support the library).

    If your local library doesn’t accept either of these types of donation, they might accept time, in the form of volunteering. Inability to afford paid staff may be forcing some libraries to close; a couple of volunteers could do just enough of the work needed to keep the joint open for a half-day when they’d otherwise close.

    As for buying books vs. patronizing a library: I got my first library card at 4 when my increasing book-hunger threatened to ding my parents’ finances. This was in a time when one salary could cover the needs of a family of three. Now? I’ve overheard mothers in bookstores tell their children they couldn’t afford the books their kids were pressing them to buy, and it’s heartbreaking. Nobody should have to say no to a child holding up a book, but the pressures of the current economy make it all too common.

    While dropping some books off at my library yesterday (some donations, some returns), I spotted a young child in a stroller, gripping a book in both hands, bumping his heels together happily with a big smile on his face. If that’s not a reason alone to support your local library, I don’t know what is.

  32. I was positively embarrassed to discover that several state level institutions (major museums and galleries) were being closed one day a week to meet arbitrary cost-cutting limits imposed by the government. For the sole purpose of claiming a budget surplus for the year when every other state (run by other political parties) was stuck with a deficit.

    Perth is not a huge city. People travel here and to regional centres to see specific things on specific days, then get confused when the doors are shut in their face and alternatives are few.

    My extended rant on the subject is here:

  33. I suport my local library with all the bleeping late fees my wife runs up with them.

    I think we’re getting a branch named after us 8)

  34. Probably the one and only situation where paying the “Amazon Tax” would be OK with me. Sure make Amazon have to collect local sales tax, however stipulate every cent of it goes to the Library.

  35. In Philly there was talk of just shutting down all of the libraries altogether, closing the doors, selling off what could be sold off, and firing everyone. The crisis was averted, but if there hadn’t been a public outcry, 3000 people would have lost their jobs, and everyone in Philly would have had no public libraries.

    Scalzi, you want I should poke at Rose and see if she can get a few good books for Athena sent your way? What’s she like to read? If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll see about having a care package sent your way.

  36. I second the ‘volunteer and donate your time’ line of argument – in many cases, libraries will benefit more from having a worker or two that they don’t have to pay than getting more money. Although of course money helps as well.

    Best of all, do both. Don’t expect someone else to make your community function, take responsibility for the things you value.

  37. Skipjim — I hear you, buddy. My youngest son has maxed out his fines on his card ($20.00) and now asks me to pick up books for him at the library on my card. He is working his way through the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I just picked up book six, Lord of Chaos. How many books are there in that series?

  38. I’ve witnessed many frustrated patrons pulling on our library doors before 1 p.m. on Thursdays not realizing that the town cut back hours due to budget concerns. I won’t say what they do after they stop pulling repeatedly on the locked doors.

    Our “Friends of the Library” organization is in their second year of collecting private donations to open the library on Sundays from October to June (closed Sundays all summer). They raise the required $36,000 and put up a poster designating the various Sundays in honor of the donors.

  39. I suspect that a lot of what has happened (as evidenced by je.lias’s comment) is that the big bookstores and Amazon have weaned much of the middle class away from libraries, which consequently means that it is not their ox getting gored when library funding is cut.

  40. Argh! Why do they choose weekends to close? For some of us, that’s the best time to get to a library.

    I’ve donated to several library systems in the last year or two that aren’t mine, including the late John Ford’s and (the non-late, thankfully) Justine Larbalestier’s choices. And if you think you wanna do anything for YOUR local libraries, just lemme know. I’m a bit far to donate hours, although my latest idea is to volunteer at one of my city’s literacy programs.

    Books are my drug and I’m just another dealer.

  41. It is not entire-day closages, but some Prince George’s County libraries in Maryland have shortened hours as well. My local branch used to close early on Friday evenings; now they are keeping Friday hours on Thursday as well and have slashed one hour from each end of the Sunday hours.

    There actually are entire-day closages in the form of furlough days, which is what the State of Maryland is doing for its own direct units as well as has required the University of Maryland to do as well.

    But since the library system didn’t choose to do a full day’s closing, I have to conclude that they are doing (so far) somewhat better here than your library system there. I am sorry. As mentioned upthread, the public library system here also accepts donations, through a Friends of the Library program. I hope there’s such a system in place in Ohio, and hope it helps enough…

  42. Closed all weekend? I thought the Columbus library being closed on Sunday was bad. They too rolled back hours and do close fairly early on Fridays and Saturdays. Cutting library services is easy for politicians to do, but so hard on those most in need during tough times. Libraries not only provide entertainment, they are now a major resource for job-seekers. Sometimes they even bring in authors to discuss their books and do readings, or provide meeting spaces for community groups, or many other things that have nothing to do with taking a book home to read. I just hope funding comes back when times improve.

  43. @Bander: Jordan had published #11 before he died in 2007, Brandon Sanderson has been contracted to finish the series, which he has said will take 3 more books (12, 13 & 14). #12 is due out by the end of this month, the others will follow at approx. 1 year intervals.

  44. Steve and Josh — Thanks for the info. Maybe my son should work on getting his fine paid off.

  45. I would have been lost without the library when I was a kid / teen.

    I loved lurking in the stacks, learning about the most random things imaginable for no reason other than I like to learn things.

    Buying them really wasn’t an option either.

  46. So far, my library in Michigan has weathered our ongoing budget woes and remain open our full hours but we have cut back personnel to the bone, and our activity has shot through the roof. Over 178,000 circulations this past year and 21,000 reference questions (we serve a population area of 25,000 people) We had 18,000 children attending our programs, up over 30% from the year before. We are busy, busy, busy, and there are no funds in sight to relieve the workload either. We are staffed at bare minimum levels and we are getting tired, because we have not had a downward tick in activity for months.
    Support your library. Many would love to have volunteers, donations, vocal support, or even more usage (staff fatigue notwithstanding). I love my job and I do it because libraries provide vital services to those with the least of means. I have helped many people research starting their own businesses, get their GEDs, study for professional examinations, learn the law, and look for work.
    If you haven’t been to a library recently, you owe it to yourself to go see. When I travel, it is usually the first place I stop in to learn about the community I am in.

  47. I’m with je.lias. Libraries are now a throw back. They are not keeping up. They have a terrible book selection, and very little new stuff. No physical books in a library are worth ANY respectable research. And my pet peave is these building tend to stink of mold and mustiness.

    The Internet, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble have already replaced libraries. Get over it. Your nostalgic childhood view of libraries is now a memory. Adapt to the new reality.

    And we already have too many libraries. I’m all for keeping SOME public funding for local reading areas for the poor/disadvantaged, however I doubt we need the redundancy of poor book selection we have today. .In my area in San Diego we have 3 pre-school and kindergarten libraries, 2 high school libraries, and a small public library… all within a mile walking distance. If you wanna drive or take the bus, you have many more library options. Seems kinda excessive.

    I also find this gotta-donate to libraries sentiment a bizarre group-think. Most people here are looking to give more? Geez, donate to your church instead. At least your church is not an inefficient publically funded entity. You are already ‘donating’ over 50% of your paycheck to lame governmental services in one way or another. From Federal tax, State tax, SSI, sales tax, gas taxes, tecom taxes, sin taxs, and the list goes on and on. I want stats on how much of the population ACTUALLY uses the library, and how frequently. I’ll bet it’s a fraction. We are taxed heavily and STILL complaining there is not enough services for a tiny subset of the population that uses them. Free books are not free if you force people to pay via taxes.

  48. “A book costs so little, you could save up for one by picking up quarters on the sidewalk. Even in a recession it’s affordable.”

    *sighs dramatically*

    Okay, let me explain something for the non-library-going crowd. Yes, we buy popular fiction. Yes, we buy paperbacks. Yes, we buy copies of Captain Underpants. These are all relatively inexpensive on an item-by-item basis. However, we also spend your hard-earned taxpayer dollars on research materials that an individual would never, and could never, buy on their own.

    The new World Book Encyclopedias are about to come out, and at approximately $800/set (that’s the library & education deep discount, mind you) they’re a steal. How about $900/year for a subscription to Value Line Investment Survey so you can follow your one or two stocks? When your kid has to have actual print references for his report on Grover Cleveland, are you going to run down to Books-a-Couple-Dozen and buy enough U.S.Presidents references for his term paper? (Good luck on that, by the way.) What about the Physician’s Desk Reference? When your doctor prescribes you a new drug, are you going to shell out $100 or so for your own personal copy so you can look up its side-effects? Oh, that’s right… You’ll just look it up on teh interwebz. Guess what, spanky – the trustworthy non-wikipedia medical references all require paid subscriptions for any kind of in-depth coverage (unless you just want to log in through your local library for free).

    Sorry. I know I’m getting steamed up needlessly. It just yanks my chain to listen to people who don’t know the difference between their library and a grocery-store paperback rack.

  49. It is a shame when services such as libraries and museums get short-changed in a budget crisis. So often these are seen as non-essential services that can be cut willy-nilly, without considering the real impact they have on the community. These places provide what may be one of the most important weapons against poverty that exists; access to knowledge. I would like to see how lawmakers would react if someone came in and cut off their cable hookup, internet service and canceled their newspaper subscription. In my opinion, that is equivalent to what they are doing to we, the people.

  50. JLR @59
    At the risk of feeding the troll…

    “They got the Library at Alexandria – they’re not getting mine!” When someone can’t begin to see the value of libraries, I just don’t know where to begin. I’d be lost without mine.

  51. Why aren’t libraries “keeping up” with buying books? See same answer as why the hours are getting cut back and librarians are losing their jobs.

    I hope people like JLR aren’t unemployed in the near future, because they’re not getting enough information from their pricey options right now. Just think of the ignorance if there were no free options, either.

  52. Another tidbit of library trivia (which someone else may have already brought up and I missed… I’ll shut up after this, I promise):

    During this recession, library usage by the public has SOARED, in some places even doubling. Why? Free internet service for job-seekers, career guidance resources, books on resumes and cover letters, classes on updating computer skills… all of which lots of people (surprise surprise) suddenly can’t afford on their own. Your local librarians are probably bending over backwards to provide these services, even though their own salaries are probably frozen, if not outright cut.

  53. I would like to see how lawmakers would react if someone came in and cut off their cable hookup, internet service and canceled their newspaper subscription.

    Except that the lawmakers pay for all those things, and the point of libraries is that the people who use them don’t.

    If you have money, donate it. If you don’t have money, donate some of your time. If you won’t do either, then stop complaining.

  54. Another blog I read discussed the question of library outreach recently — I wonder how much of the problem with library funding is a matter of not having effective advocates?
    As others have noted, libraries seem to have been society’s great refuge during recessions and depressions, exactly the sort of place that ought to get _extra_ money in times like these. Who is making this case, though, to the people responsible for funding?

  55. “Who is making this case, though, to the people responsible for funding?”

    Library directors and Friends groups for the most part. Non-confrontational please-everyone customer service is so deeply ingrained into librarian culture, though, that aggressive salesmanship (which is what is needed now) doesn’t come easy for most of us.

  56. Mitch @ 14:

    The concept of the library is in the same vein as that of public education. Removing barriers to education and literacy helps to promote an educated and literate population. With very few exceptions, a literate and educated population is generally a much better idea then the opposite.

    Yes, that.

    A literate and educated populous is vital to the survival of a country. To whatever extent the country practices some form of democracy, however diluted or corrupt, it’s even more important.

  57. I feel your pain as I myself live in Ohio and have experienced this first hand recently myself.

  58. JLR@51:

    Judging the necessity of a service solely on the number of people who benefit directly is shortsighted in the extreme. What small fraction of people directly benefit from their community having a fire department? But everyone benefits, because if one house burns, the whole town is at risk. The comparison to public schools and libraries is obvious and direct. Ignorance is incredibly destructive.

  59. my $.02

    1) the library is not just a repository for books/ free internet access area – where I live (in NE Illinois) the local library is where one goes to get income tax paperwork, look up official information, do research, access archives (anyone do geneology and want to see who was born in the county in 1859?) etc. Also the place whe the local community college has extension classes etc. So a good slogan “Libraries = more than just books”

    2) I don’t have book check out access at my local library ( I live in an unincorporated area between 2 towns, to get full access I’d need to pony up $900 +/-) so for me all I use the library for is all of the above – and it still pains me when hours get cut..

  60. jasonmitchell: Sweet jumping Lucifer, where do you live that you have to pay that much for library service? Are you sure it’s that much? Where I work, we recently had to up our out-of-county fee for nonresidents from $30 to $50, and we thought *that* was a big deal.

  61. Trolls?? On the value of libraries??? Wow.

    The Internet, gotta love it.

    Support your library – use it as much as you can. Don’t quit buying books from authors you want to support, but libraries keep track of usage too – check out books you love, go to their programs, all of that. Libraries don’t record who checks out what, but they do keep track of total checkouts and checkouts by book. They need those numbers to justify their existence. So the first thing you can do to support your library is use it. Because if things aren’t used, they’ll go away first.

    If you can, give money to your library. Or books – they’ll use them if they can, and sell them for fundraisers if they can’t. Or time – they often need volunteers for all sorts of things. Write to your government representatives and tell them that libraries are important to the community.

    I have a good job and buy lots of books. But there’s no possible way I could buy everything I want to read, or take a look at. Or, in my library, listen to as audiobook, or dvd to watch, or music cd. And when I was poor, libraries were even more important.

  62. @ Phiala: Yeah seriously, trolls re libraries?? Who doesn’t like libraries?

    I went with my parents every weekend since I was 2 while I lived with them, and have gone almost every weekend since I left home. Closing on Saturdays is just cold. If you’re a kid with 2 working parents it essentially means you’ll never be able to go to the library with your parents and pick out books together, which was one of my favourite activities as a little kid.

    More generally, public libraries where I live have copies of statutes, reports of parliamentary proceedings, database access to the same sorts of things, and (relatively cheap) internet cafe-style internet. Its important for people’s access to information about their own government, aside from the basic literacy argument. Pricing reading beyond a large proportion of the populace, when literacy rates are already stagnating, seems utterly vile and short-sighted to me. I repeat: seriously, who can’t see the value of libraries?

    Where I live the council keeps trying to cut the library budget and public opposition keeps forcing them to back off. Its basically politically impossible to make significant cuts (which doesn’t mean the budget doesn’t get squeezed, just that the service itself isn’t threatened).

  63. Wheaton, Illinois – local library wants 10% of my property tax…. I buy about $500-$700 in books/year (I like hardcovers – much of that goes to Mr. Schafer above, and some will indirectly go to Mr. Hughes when Nightshade ships Hespira) so I’m “ahead” all of the other services of the library I believe is covered by county/state/fed funds so I get to use those – and I still donate my gently used books tolend some small measure of support


    they don’t do a drive every year, but their drives are specifically to support libraries in need.

    I almost feel bad for having a super awesome library now. You guys can all get books out on my card at my local NoVA library, as long as you return them on time!

  65. By the way, the first person who uses this post an excuse to discourse generally on libertarianism/the evils of government services/anything not directly related to libraries is going to get their comment snipped. I realize that some of you have a ideological hammer and that this means everything looks like a nail to you, but frankly, it kinda bores the shit out of me. So stay on topic, please.

  66. Philadelphia’s libraries… yeah, it’s not doing so well. I live two blocks from one of the (many, to be fair) survivors. Saturdays are a loss, but they’re still open to 9, two days of the week. That’s good for working families.

    And we borrow enough that buying would be insane. Plus, where would we *keep* them all? We’d have to set up… a library.

  67. John, does that include discussing the funding of libraries via taxes? I don’t mean taxes in general — someone above commented about libraries having their own tax authority, and finding it easier to get increased funding that way, and I thought that was interesting.

    I haven’t been the local public library in years, but I have to say, I’ve always just assumed it will be there, and I feel the same way public libraries as I do public schools.

  68. Bearpaw@63

    Amen. One need look no further than a recent president to discover how destructive ignorance is.

  69. sigh. Same way about public libraries as I do public schools. So dreadfully sorry for the typo.

  70. SEF:

    That’s fine, as it relates to libraries and funding. I’m just somewhat tired of the topic drift. Not every comment thread needs to be a general referendum on [insert favorite ideology here], and it’s not too much to ask folks to stay on target.

  71. I might as well be a library with all the borrowing my friends and family do of my books!

    But seriously, my kids love the library. My 3yr old is just about to the point of starting to read for himself but both kids love to have us ready to them. Fortunately my wife is an elementary school teacher and has amassed quite a collection of books for children our kids’ age. But they still love going to the library to check out new books.

    John, any chance you (collectively) could convince your libraries to change that Saturday close date to a weekday instead?

  72. JLR @ 51 –
    “In September 2008, a Harris Poll from Harris Interactive reported that 68 percent of Americans have a library card, while 76 percent of Americans visited their local library in the past year. In that same time period, 41 percent of Americans visited the web site of their local library”

    So yes, only a fraction of the population that uses libraries. 3/4 just isn’t a small fraction.

  73. Oh, good. Thanks :).

    As I implied, I like public libraries. They’re a great thing, and on par with public schools. I can get pretty ranty about taxes at times, but I’ve never had a problem with taxes for public schools — they make my life better and safer. And public libraries are similar things — they let anyone come in and learn. Or just entertain themselves.

    I read yesterday that my county had spent three years fighting some group that wanted to get copies of the digital map data — and, at the end, the county was ordered to pay the group’s legal fees.

    The fees alone came out to half a million dollars. I didn’t see anything about how much it cost the county to engage in this drawn-out legal fight.

    But — and here’s where it connects with this — I’m now finding myself wondering how much the county has cut any library budgets. And I do find it distressing that the county was spending all that time, money, and effort fighting the dissemination of information. And libraries are the opposite of that, being sources of information dissemination.

    To je.lias, way back up there — in addition to all the arguments other people have made, have you priced out reference books? Sure, a paperback book costs $8… but an encylopedia costs a lot more than that, just for a single volume. And there are lots of volumes. Libraries also get periodicals, and keep archives of them — it’s pretty hard to retroactively subscribe to a magazine, and subscribing to all of them is pretty expensive, pretty quickly. (On the other hand, for just reading current books, Barnes & Noble seems content to let people hang out and read for long periods of time.)

    Now I’m going to go see if I can donate money to my local public library. Or sponsor some magazine subscriptions.

  74. Seeing libraries at the forefront of budget cuts is deeply upsetting to me.

    I grew up pretty poor and the majority of my families entertainment came from library books. Not just that, it allowed kids a place to go after school to study, gave workshops, etc. Half of the afterschool programs I was involved in back in Elementary school were put on by the Public Library.

    Especially today, often libraries offer services to the poor / unemployed for internet/computer use, government resources and other workshops/readings.

    Budgets need to be cut but just wish they could cut less on public services and more on frivolity.

  75. I’d gotten out of the habit of using libraries over the years since I could afford to buy pretty much what I wanted and the research stuff cited above wasn’t something I needed. But the last couple of years are tougher economically and I’m living about a mile from a branch of the county library (which is downstairs from a great independent bookstore amusingly enough). Now, the actual branch is TINY. Maybe 1000sf. But I can go online and request a book and the site asks me where I’d like to pick it up. Within a day or two, I get an email saying it’s there. That’s right, the branch is small.. but I have access to everything in the entire county system and if it’s not at my branch, they’ll deliver it there. FOR FREE.

    When I see stuff in the Big Idea column or on that sound interesting but I’m not sure I want to buy them (or they’re in hardcover which I rarely buy for several reasons)… I hit the library.

    What libraries do, in short, is to bring a vast collection of information to me and while some of that is on the web, much of it isn’t. To me, libraries are up there with police and fire as foundational things that government should do. Cutting them is asinine and is usually either done to make people feel the pain of cuts or from the misguided idea that across the board cuts are equitable.

  76. My sister in-law works for the Genesee County Library (Flint, MI) system, she told me that they had a meeting this past summer about having their wages cut. But the library was not planning on cutting the hours that the branches would remain open during the week. Either way, cutting hours or cutting wages, the employee gets screwed as well as the patron.

    Back here in Austin, TX, three bookstores I used to frequent have closed in the past year. Definitely spurred on by the recession. I also suspect that online purchasing may have a hand in the demise of local bookstores. Personally, I prefer to walk into a bookstore or library and feel the heft of a book, then open it to a random page and read a paragraph or two.

  77. I read one book of 500 pages (in my spare time) in about five days.

    If i bought each book I read during a year then i would have storage issues, and have a heavy drain on money.

    I pay for the library as local taxes, and pay additional fees on top of that. A library makes sense for me.

    Like any addiction, mine is planned, backordered, and fitted around opening hours of the establishment. I would miss the library if it closed.

  78. Wow, we must have some library fans pulling some strings in west Michigan, were I frequent the libraries almost every day.

    Not only do we have Sunday hours during the school year, but they have recently expanded late evening hours as well. Not to mention the fact that our collections are expanding faster than I can keep up (at least in SF – the majority of my reading) including many titles published only through small presses at significantly higher prices. They have even purchased over-priced signed & limiteds, when no other option exists.

    All this in the state with arguably the worst economy in the union. I wonder what the difference is in Ohio? Here’s hoping things turn around for our neighbors to the south.

  79. I feel terrible for all those people who don’t have ready access to books like I do. I just buys so many regularly I never have a problem having something to read.

    People who can’t afford that need libraries to go to, and it just got a little harder for them. :(

  80. My family generally doesn’t use libraries for various reasons. We also probably spend on the order of $1500/year on books. We can afford it.

    Not everyone can.

  81. Something else libraries do – my father ran away from home when I was 16. I had no contact of any kind with him after that. Years later I came home to find a message from him on my answering machine telling me he was going into a hospital in San Diego for open heart surgery. He left no other information. I called the telephone operator and information and they could not give me any names of hospitals in San Diego, They told me that without a hospital name, they couldn’t give me a phone number.

    This was pre-internet days.

    I was in a panic and didn’t know where to turn. I knew the library reference desk had helped me find info in the past so I called and explained the situation. Within 5 minutes had a full listing of hospitals and phone numbers in the SD area. I was able to call my father at the hospital, talk with him and reconnect. He didn’t live long after our conversations, but we were able to reestablish a relationship and say our “I love you”s – something we only were able to do because the library existed.

  82. I am trying to stay out of these totally political debates. But I must let Xopher know that there isn’t a vast Republican conspiracy to keep the masses enslaved and ignorant.
    To quote Xopher “the real reason will be that Republicans are fundamentally opposed to public libraries, because they allow the lower classes to educate themselves”
    Are you serious?
    Oh never mind.

  83. if it hadn’t been for libraries i wouldn’t have had any books at all growing up. no money to buy them. i remember hating that kids could only check out two at a time so my mom would check out a bunch for me (i read way above my “reading level” so i was reading the same types of books as she was by fifth grade).

    does anybody remember the bookmobile? it used to drive around to different neighborhoods when i was growing up (only in the summer) and you could sign up for the reading club. i loved the bookmobile. libraries can’t do that anymore either. *sigh*

  84. The library near my house cut hours to the point that unless I wake up early on Saturday, I’m not getting there, ever. Weeknights close at 5, closed Saturday afternoon and all Sunday.

    @Scalzi: quick side note. Have your comments always been watermarked with your headshot?

  85. I remember the bookmobile, absolutely loved them! Looked forward to their appearance more than the ice-cream truck, in the summertime. I was much saddened when the went away, but by then I was old enough that my parents let me take the bus to the main library by myself. Fortunately.

  86. Having recently been a reader for whom convenience outweighed price, I understand the “just go to Amazon” orientation. I’m now in the “can I afford this?” crowd, for reasons that are all-too-common in Michigan. The local Library has become important to me. It even fits well with my pre-recession desire to avoid physical books. Hulu is great, but DVDs are much more pleasant to watch. As noted elsewhere, audiobooks are far too expensive for casual purchase (even in the recent halcyon days). Interlibrary loan is just as fast as Amazon, and the selection nearly as complete.

    @Tim (#84) West Michigan has some very wealthy people, some of whom are altruistic (and some are willing to pay to see their name on stuff). I can assure you, things are not so pleasant further east.

  87. As far as I know in NY, outside of cities (which is a specific political entity as opposed to counties, towns, villages and school districts) the libraries have there own taxing ability.

    The library district and the school district are the same geographically, but have nothing else to do with each other.

    Our problem is they are cutting aquistion, but not having reasonable staffing. The main floor was not set up to be supervised by the check out desk and the two reference librarians who occupy the main stack/reading room can not be bothered with helping you. The Director is good, but has little control over the staff as that is considered patronage.

    Do remember that both libraries and fire departments were both essentially founded by Franklin. Don’t think he was known as a Socialist.

    16% of the total floor space is given over to offices.

  88. Turtlesong@89: I have vivid memories of checking “Dune” out from the book mobile when I was in the 8th grade.

  89. One thing about libraries that doesn’t get mentioned and can’t really be measured is that little bit of informal help we librarians provide to people that gets them over the hump. For example, someone is trying to update their resume but can’t get their new stuff to line up correctly. I can help them in 30 seconds, but if the library wasn’t here, then what? There would have to be a government training program to teach people Word etc. etc.

    Sometimes we are presented with ethical dilemmas, like when the guy couldn’t get “Proficient with Microsoft Office” in the same font as the rest of his resume.

    We are often the bartenders of the unemployed as well. People vent to us their frustrations and, sometimes, we cheer them up. I work in one of the weathiest communities in the country, so I can’t imagine what it’s like elsewhere. Everyone is talking about books and computers, but really the tragedy of cut-backs is the loss of the people.

    Vent concluded

  90. We’ve been having furloughs and branch closings here. I wish I had time to volunteer – the library keeps me stocked in books for the bus and early mornings when otherwise I would probably be having to eat the books I bought. Maybe with some ketchup…
    Beyond the monetary sense, the library helps keep me from carpeting our teensy apartment with books. That’s a big lure of electronic books – when I move, I won’t have to cart huge, heavy boxes of books. It was bad enough when I only had to move one bookshelf full of books.

  91. Scalzi@71, a libertarian ideological response seems a reasonable counter-point after 48 wistful glowy blog posts lamenting the cuts/reduction of a government service. Sorry to bore you.

    I enjoy books and reading and intelligent discourse too. That’s why I enjoy an author’s blog. But I just don’t share the warm and squishy feeling about libraries; and over the last 15 years I’ve noticed less value in em. I suspect the lack of significant public outcry over the reduction of library hours is a result of low percentage of advocates.

  92. JLR @ 97

    This year, when Ohio’s Democratic governor Strickland announced a budget with a 50% decrease in funding for public libraries, his office received nearly 1100 calls on the first day decrying this cut. That’s nearly 10 times the daily number of calls the governor’s office received.

    I wouldn’t say that’s a lack of significant public outcry.

  93. With a population over 11 million the Ohio governor’s office normally gets only 100 calls a day? I get 10 a day, and I just represent my family.

  94. Well, the republicans blah, blah blah… Give it a break, seriously. It is not even funny anymore.

    It seems the Dems run OH now so it is their fault to begin with. Interesting question is, would OH people be willing to pay some percentage more in state income tax to get the libraries back to what they were….?

  95. LeftField @104

    Based on what we’re hearing from many communities, many are placing levies on the ballot in November so that the next time some idiot in Columbus decides to balance the budget on libraries backs, there will still be funds to stay open.

  96. Liam Hegarty@95

    I’ve always found librarians to be some of the most helpful people, though I personally don’t ask for assistance much, other than helping feed my addiction by checking out my books. I both buy books;for myself, my kids and my husband as well as use the library, checking out 2-5 books a week. This thread prompted me to check my book buying expenses: I discovered we usually spend $1,000 to $2,000 per year on books. If we didn’t have a library, I’m not sure I could afford my addiction.

  97. As far as protesting the closing of public libraries goes, I have only anecdotal evidence to offer. However, when the town I live in contemplated the closing of our two branch libraries a few years ago–not the main library, the branches–the entire community went up in flames. I mean screaming-out-loud-at-town-meetings-style flames.

    Then again, we aren’t really accustomed to the idea that public libraries have a state-wide budget, for the most part, so I don’t know how many people would even think of picking up a phone to call the governor. The library system belongs to the community, and the community pays for it. When we can’t pay for it, we suffer–but not silently, believe me.

  98. That really bites – libraries are close to my heart as well. Libraries were always a sanctuary for me as a kid. When we had next to no money, the library was the one place where my Mom could say, “you can have as much as you want.” Later, after our move, the library a few doors down from my house would become a sanctuary away from my step-dad.

    The public library is one of the truly great democratic institutions of our age. They can be a powerful equalizer, offering up the sum total of human knowledge and literature for anyone, regardless of race or social standing.

  99. JLR:

    “Sorry to bore you.”

    Well, if you were actually sorry to bore me, you wouldn’t be going out of your way to bore me, now would you?

    But yes, in fact, people who use every opportunity to blather on about libertarianism, in fact, bore the shit out of me. Never have so many talked so long about a political philosophy dedicated to doing so very little. So indeed, unless it’s directly relevant to the discussion at hand, rein it in. Thanks.


    “It seems the Dems run OH now so it is their fault to begin with.”

    Spoken like someone who is not actually aware of the political composition of the Ohio state government. Hint: at least one branch of the legislature is not majority Democrat.

    Kneejerk partisan responses bore the shit out of me as much as attempts to open up a general seminar on libertarianism at every opportunity. Let’s all try to be a little smarter, please.

  100. Due to this discussion, I’ve set up an automatic payment of $25 to my city library every month.

    Hopefully that’s not boring.

  101. I hear ya, it was a generalization since the branches are about 50/50 but the gov’na is a democrat and the state leans to the left. (unless wikipedia has it all wrong)

    I think libraries are very important, loved them as a kid. I also loved them for the 4 months I was laid off with no income etc. It helped keep the kids occupied with books, movies etc. when we could not afford anything else.

    Having said that, I guess the cuts have to come from somewhere so finding something less essential than full time library hours is the trick.

  102. LeftField:

    “unless wikipedia has it all wrong”


    We currently have a Democratic governor, but the two-term governor before him was Republican. Ohio went to Obama in ’08 but for Bush in ’04. Politically it’s pretty evenly divided, which is one of the reasons it ends up being a swing state in most presidential elections. Ohio’s current economic situation, to the extent it involves the state government, is a bi-partisan effort.

    That said, I don’t think the issue of libraries is owned either by the right or the left. Generally speaking they’re used and supported by everyone. I do think having their budgets slashed by 30% is bringing home to a lot of Ohio towns how much, in fact, they are used and are useful.

  103. American Comrades,
    Alas, your libraries are going the way of the dodo bird. But at least your banks are doing fantastically well. At least some Americans are benefitting from the closing down of public libraries. Billions and billions and billions of your (the taxpayers’) money being funneled to greedy bankers nationwide, shadowy people with private libraries (built by such private contractors as Halliburton) in their posh nuclear bomb shelters. The end of days are upon us, Dear Reader.
    America expatriate

  104. Just something I haven’t seen mentioned:

    reference books like encyclopedias aren’t the only research resource provided. Most librarians will be able to help tea h you how to locate the types of resources you might need for your particular project. Following on that, it has been my experience that libraries set up networks with other libraries so that books located in other stacks can be sent to you. This is particularly relevant when you are working on a project way out in the weeds that deals with small run publications of books that are uniquely relevant to your particular project. I was able to get some great resources in the course of my masters program that I would not have had any other way to access by simply electronically requesting them. Some days later, there they were ready to be picked up.

    As far as electronically available material. I don’t think we are there yet in terms of anything is net accessible. Libraries are a great resource to help bridge what I see as a very wide gap, particularly in terms of academic subject books.

    That side, I’ve found libraries to be generally more useful when they don’t require a forty minute trip to get to one. Where I live now, a lot of the libraries are integrated into local communities that are neighborhood accessible. Kids and adults cam wall to them. I’d understand if local government were closing doors as a sort of pseudo mom military version of BRAC, but I don’t think that’s the case. Closing libraries is generally bad mojo. Their sanctified locations, as far as I’m concerned.

    And I capital L Love it when authors raise awareness. I know Cory Doctorow makes copies of his books available electronically for free. When people banged down his door demanding the right to pay for what they thought was a good ride, he set up a way for them to purchase copies of his books for their local libraries. Good business all around for him and good for libraries. I’m not arguing that it’s a moral obligation on the part of all authors to adopt similar practices by any stretch. But it’s a great example of how authors work to support their local libraries.

    Thanks, Johm, for hanging a lantern on this issue.

  105. Most librarians will be able to help

    I’ve been told that a surprising number of librarians have PhDs in Library Science. And I’ve known more than one librarian hired to help programmers with information layout.

  106. Jesus my typos are out of control. My excuse I’m outside on my phone and my fingers went numb in the cold typing this. Granted the door to warm is two feet to my left. But I read 100 plus comments and was compelled to post immediately.

    One correction though: Thanks, John*…

    *don’t frak up the hosts name in a compliment. It’s just bad manners.

  107. No one has mentioned so far that libraries often have books you CAN’T get anywhere else. Out of print books unavailable in digital format, for example. Contrary to what you might think, even online used book stores do not stock every title that ever existed. I have yet to strike out, however, with my library’s inter-library loan service.

    And if I were to purchase every book that I read, I would soon have no space in the house at all. Which is why I pursue a strict no book-buying policy which actually means I end up buying an average of 2 or 3 per month. Libraries are an essential part of my family’s life.

  108. SEF @ 120 – a friend of mine is one of those. And to follow on, even if a particular librarian can’t help you personally, I’ve found that they are a helpful and giving sort of people with a list of contacts.

    SarahK: great minds and all that.

  109. I can see how much that must suck – I am completely dependant on libraries being a “person of limited means” (TM). Fortunately my local library just started opening on Sundays so I will remain contented for the foreseeable future.

  110. “Republicans run your state, they’ll fight putting the library funding back in when times are better”

    Yeah, because Republicans don’t like to read anything that contradicts the Bible, and get all their information from Glenn Beck.

    It’s too bad that the library chose to close on Saturdays. It seems to me that most people are working, but have evenings and especially weekends to use the library. I wonder if any real thought was put into the choice of closing times.

    The same thing with the post office, they close at precisely the times most of their customers would be likely to use them. No wonder UPS, Fedex and others outperform them.

  111. Sean Eric Fagan @ 120–yeah, there are very few library jobs (in well funded areas at least–I dunno about the tiny town libraries so much anymore) for people without at least a masters, which is why I am still in school at 28. But that’s kind of a problem in itself, as the people with the degrees get paid more, leaving less money for upkeep and for acquisition of books and all that.

  112. To JJ @ 117 and Scalzi @ 118 – Remember that libertarians aren’t all like our “friends” here that constantly push their political agenda. Some of us are more centrist with libertarian leanings. We like the idea but have live in this real world we got stuck with so try to make the best of it. ;)

  113. Scalzi @118: “Yeah. I think of it like being a vegetarian in a leather jacket. It takes some compartmentalization.”

    The difference is that it’s easy to find jackets made out of non-leather materials – but there are very few library positions, and even fewer that are private. If you want to work in the field at all, you’ll probably have to make some compromises.

    Libraries are so awesome that even people who disapprove of government programs like them.

  114. @melendwyr: but there are very few library positions, and even fewer that are private.

    I don’t know this for certain, but I would imagine that there are more private positions for librarians than you might think, at private schools and colleges.

  115. Jumping in here…

    I read all these complaints that libraries aren’t “keeping up” with new books and whatnot. I used to think that until I realized something: I was expecting the library to be Barnes and Noble, that there would be the copy of the book I wanted on the shelf waiting for me to show up and check it out. Not so. Libraries around here (Seattle) have most of the titles I’m looking for, but they exist on the “hold” section. Meaning I have to wait my turn *gasp* It’s a delay-of-gratification trick, but it is well worth it, especially when my local library stocks more movies than Blockbuster.

  116. Hopefully folks realize what a mistake this is and fight to get it reversed. Even in this age of the Internet…hell, ESPECIALLY in this age of the Internet…public libraries are IMPORTANT. They are needed and valuable.

    I haven’t really been to one in months and not regularly to our local one in years (other than to donate books). But I recognize their value. Internet to folks who might not have it or can’t afford it. Books loaned for free. Videos and video games rented for very low prices. Access to books be they expensive, popular, rare, out-of-print, obscure or of limited appeal. Public works and art projects. Community focuses.

    I remember many a summer day spent as a lad at the local library in the town in NJ where I grew up. I remember the AWE when my mother took me, as a wee lad, to Albany’s cavernous public library…or the excitement I had scannning through microfiche reels of old newspapers. I remember book clubs, D&D games, new authors, listening to comedy albums….so many experiences brought to first by libraries.

    It saddens me when others devalue what I consider such a valuable thing. Hopefully Ohio’s legislators will see that, while libraries are an easy place to cut the budget, they aren’t a GOOD place to cut the budget.

  117. In answer to those questioning why Saturday and Wednesday closings — in our small community, many local groups meet regularly in the library meeting rooms. Specifically, Monday mornings and Tuesday and Thursday evenings have been “reserved”. I suspect, therefore, that our library took into account regular and dedicated users when choosing their necessary closed days.

  118. I just would like to say that this discussion has warmed this Michigan librarian’s heart.

  119. WizarDru @ 132: “It saddens me when others devalue what I consider such a valuable thing. Hopefully Ohio’s legislators will see that, while libraries are an easy place to cut the budget, they aren’t a GOOD place to cut the budget.”

    It’s not necessarily a matter of “devaluing” libraries.

    There are a limited number of ways an employer — private or public — can reduce employment costs during a downturn. Since it’s almost certain librarians are covered by a union contract designating wages, benefits and pensions, reducing costs that way is not an option. What’s left involves reducing the total number of hours worked, or firing staff.

    Put it another way: is this current trend of limiting library hours and/or firing librarians enough for people to join a political campaign to break union agreements? If not, then the politicians who chose as they did acted appropriately.

  120. I’m lucky to live in the Timberland Regional Library System, a fact I’ve taken serious advantage of since it was established (actually, I campaigned for it as a teenaged activist). Both of my kids were in the library within a few days of their birth, and more than weekly until they graduated from high school. I don’t go often these days because of hand issues which make using physical books difficult, but I still communicate with the reference librarians when I’ve got research problems, and use the garden section heavily when I’m studying for plant sales, or, to my shame, trying to figure out whatto do with a plant sale impulse buy.

    Of course, in my locality, the big problem with libraries is finding a parking place in easy walking distance and a chair inside, especially on Saturdays and after school. And even with that heavy usage, there’s still funding problems (largely related to the cumulative ravages of Mr. Eyman and his minions): hours have been restricted (no Sunday hours, now, even in the school year) and, for the first time in forty years, late fees imposed.

    We buy books at my house, and loan them out, re-sell them, leave them in totttering stacks everywhere, are currently getting rid of other furniture for more bookcases, and still need the library: for out of print stuff, reference books too expensive to buy or too rarely needed for the shelf space they occupy. Other people have other needs: the local college has a whole lot of married foreign students whose wives and small children find the library indispensible for education and socialization, a whole lot of functionally homeless teenagers use the library as their only safe space to study and relax, elders in small apartments find them an enriching place to get out and around. The books/periodicals/computer terminals are inherant to those uses, but so is the place, where other people are pursuing the same ends, and positive social contact in a relatively unstable population can happen.

  121. Scalzi @ 109: “…libertarianism, in fact, bore the shit out of me. Never have so many talked so long about a political philosophy dedicated to doing so very little. So indeed, unless it’s directly relevant to the discussion at hand, rein it in.”

    Well, it seems VERY relevant to discussion at hand. The post starts by highlighting state-wide budget cuts and asserts that library budgets are “already lean”. This post laments the reduction of a public service. People here extol the value libraries provide them: giving free novels, free audio CDs, free DVD movies, free books on tape. And I see this as providing free entertainment. I happen to think government should not be providing entertainment as a public service.

    I’m taking issue with the fundamental premise of this thread. That ‘it’s a shame we have reduced library hours’. We got over 100 comments supporting you. So be it. But people here are mourning the reduction of their favorite non-essential government service. Which is a political position ripe for a dissenting voice.

  122. JLR, I think your filter is stuck.

    A library is usually funded by taxes, but it’s function is not part of government – unless, of course, you think EVERYTHING not personal property is automatically ‘government.’

    Remember “of the people, for the people, by the people”? There’s more than one kind of ownership.

    There is also such a thing as community. Sometimes people fund community projects through taxes. Other times, not.

  123. JLR @ 137 –

    if public schools are essential, I’d argue a venue supporting access to literacy is equally essential. Libraries provide access to a number of services to help people improve their situation with access to job seeking advice, computers, books, and other types of support.

    Besides, it’s hard not to support ideas publicly and financially supported by guys like Ben Franklin and Tom Jefferson.

  124. In my town, we have a small library, but it’s tied into the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library system so I can also request a wide variety of books and get them in 24-48 hours if they are not on hold.

    I agree, too, that library’s are a great source of out of print books, as well as archived magazines, at least on microfiche and probably now in digital form.

  125. JLR @137, by “ripe for a dissenting voice” you apparently mean “lots of people agree on something, so I have a terrible urge to run in and play the Sole Voice of Reason”. You quite obviously don’t mean that there is a sound libertarian argument to be made, because you’re not making it.

    Consider that your first argument was that the Internet and bookstores have ‘replaced libraries’ – as if bookstores were just invented yesterday, or for that matter, that the Internet was. You also don’t seem to understand that the recession has affected bookstores.

    That not having persuaded anybody of what a clever, original thinker you are, you tried the faux-libertarian tack. Problem is that actual libertarians are opposed to categories of government services, not value judgments. Sneering that libraries provide ‘entertainment’ is beside the point. To an actual libertarian, a library that lends out nothing but nonfiction is just as wrongity wrong wrong omg theft jackbooted thugs RUBY RIDGE! as a library that lends out only Uwe Boll movies; the libertarian’s objection is that the funding comes from taxation.

    So, sorry, that coherent, thoughtful dissenting argument is going to go begging.

  126. Please remember to vote for your library this Nov. 3. There are a number of libraries on the ballot in Ohio (where John lives) and in other states too! htpp://

  127. @117-118 As it happens I am a vegetarian who owns a leather jacket and I was a libertarian librarian. There is/was some compartmentalizing.

  128. I love having a library within walking distance of my apartment. I already spend Aust$200 – $300 per month buying books. But there are lots of other books I want to read, but won’t read twice and therefore tend to borrow those from the library. Often I’ll borrow a book to see if I like an author someone has recommended to me and then end up buying their back catalogue and everything they write from then on. That’s how I started reading books by a certain John Scalzi :-)

    But in Canberra library funding is down, like everywhere else. In fact, they closed one branch a couple of years ago, much to the outrage of the locals. However, the locals took matters into their own hands and opened their own community library and it’s been running on subscriptions, donations, and volunteer labour ever since.
    You can read a bit about the history here:

  129. Libraries also encourage a lot of us to read more widely. Someone I know recommends a book on her blog, it sounds like i might like it, so I go to and see if they have a copy I can reserve. I probably wouldn’t go to a bookstore to buy a biography of Paul Dirac based on a book review, but I’m happy to put myself on the waiting list.

    If I know I want something, that might be bookstore time (I have two books on their way from Amazon as I type). If it’s something I’m not sure of, well, all I’m investing is a little time. I recently asked for what has turned out to be a thriller and really not my cup of tea that way. Six pages were enough. Someone else will enjoy it, and I haven’t spent several dollars on something I don’t like. More to the point, sometimes those “why not” library choices are very much my cup of tea, but I wouldn’t have invested the time and money without more information. There are a lot more people who I’ll believe when they say “you might like this” than when they say “you will like this, it’s worth the money and the shelf space for you.”

    I still feel spoiled by the New York Public Library: online catalog and reserves, sent to the branch of my choice regardless of where the copy is kepy when not checked out, and I can renew books online if nobody else has them on hold.

  130. Mr. Xinos in that _Daily Herald_ piece linked earlier on here strikes me as a very cheerful and unapologetic sort of bully indeed.

    I do not like him. At all. Were my liberty at risk in criminal trial in his neighbourhood, I’d be inclined to risk jail time than pay his fees for service.

  131. Libraries provide free entertainment, free information, free literacy programmes, free information literacy programmes, free access to online government services, free training for job searching, a free place for kids to hang out after school, a free place for families to bond together in the weekend, a free place for clubs to hold meetings.

    Here’s one even libertarians should like: when government says “We want to know what books our citizens are reading,” big business says “Sure, boss, here you are” and libraries say “Oh, *so* sorry, we kinda totally accidentally deleted that information already.”

    When I was a teenager and went to evening things in town, the library was the safe place to hang out until I could get the bus home.

    I’m a librarian now and have the internet at my fingertips. But when I wanted to find Māori science fiction books, the internet failed me. So I emailed a librarian, and got a stunningly comprehensive answer by the next day.

    Databases. Reference books may be hundreds of dollars, but databases cost thousands. Tens of thousands. Sure, you *could* pay-per-article, but at $30 an article that’s a lot of dosh. From a library it’s free.

    Libraries are books, and they’re internet access, but they’re also services, and programmes, and place, and community.

    Jessica Dorr of the Gates Foundation last week at the LIANZA library conference in New Zealand told of a Latvian mayor who was faced in difficult economic times with funding either roads *or* a library. <hunts> This video refers to it at 5:22 – Aldis Adamovics, mayor of Preili. He chose to fund the library. And business was revitalised, and community programmes were revitalised, and kids stayed in school longer, and the economy boomed.
    Want to fix the economy? Give some of that bailout money to libraries.

    People have talked about three ways you can help your library: donating money, books, or volunteer time. Here’s a fourth: write, phone, email, fax, shmooze with your local government and make sure they know how important the library is to you as a tax payer; make sure they know how valuable the library is to your community.

  132. Mythango @141, thanks for recognizing me as a clever and original thinker. For a long time I’ve been seeking your approval, and the approval of all others who tend to blindly agree with the author on every post.

    But seriously, your comeback is fail. I’m not attempting a libertarian argument. I’m making MY argument. Look carefully, I never claimed to be libertarian. Scalzi breaks out that label, not me. Regardless, I don’t care to be a REAL libertarian, in your eyes, or anyone else’s’. Nor do I feel constrained to own a particular hard-lined ideological position, as you suggest I should hold. Please try to be stealthier in your attempts to build me into your strawman.

    I shall continue to create value judgments when it comes to reviewing what government does and how it taxes. I can speak for myself, try not to put words in my mouth, thank you.

    Aside from your feeble attempt to mock and obfuscate, I’m not seeing an actual counter-argument from you. It’s your retort that has no game.

    Ok, y’all enjoy the library. Fine. But should everyone be forced to fund your enjoyment? Sorry to be blunt about it, but, when in these tough recessionary times, a little girl goes without a publically funded novel to pass the time during her hair appointment… is it a shame?

    That was my initial reaction. Struck me as gratuitous. Clearly I’m in the minority. Hate to be the fly in the library-love ointment, yet within the context of the original post, and since Scalzi announced his plans to share more thoughts later… yes, I felt it germane to chime in.

    I have daughters myself. I hate it when they are disappointed. Totally understandable reaction. However, this became a library advocacy thread once everyone started down the ‘it’s crying shame, gotta change the hearts and minds of our leaders’ path. Not that Scalzi was intending to do this, but after so many activist posts it becomes a political topic rather than minor outburst about a personal frustration.

  133. JLR @ 148 –

    “Ok, y’all enjoy the library. Fine. But should everyone be forced to fund your enjoyment? Sorry to be blunt about it, but, when in these tough recessionary times, a little girl goes without a publically funded novel to pass the time during her hair appointment… is it a shame?”

    I think you are overfocused on the “enjoyment” word. I understand that Scalzi came at the post from the short short term perspective of keeping his daughter entertained during a hair appointment. But, this does not mean that encouraging and preserving the habit of reading in anyone is not a primary objective.

    But aside from fiction and videos and video games, libraries have the resources to provide access to types of information that most people would not be able to afford in any way. Examples are things like databases, collection of journal articles, collections of primary source materials, small run or out of print nonfiction research oriented books, etc.

    The Internet and digitized materials are not at parity with resources of public library systems. And many of the resources that are electronically accessible are behind paywalls prohibitively expensive for all but organizational budgets.

    And, spread out across local communities the cost is much much less prohibitive. In Fairfax County Virginia (I’m sure one of the richest examples, but it’s one I know) the library budget for 2009 was around thirty million dollars. Compared to the public school budget: they are currently trying to resolve a budget shortfall for next years 3.3 Billion dollar budget larger than the library systems entire budget.

    Libraries are not really where the budget issues seem to come up. Additionally, whether you are of the “essential” or “entertainment” camps their budgets aren’t really the place to look for major savings.

    Some clips from their website, (

    System Profile
    Eight regional libraries, 14 community libraries, Access Services branch for people with disabilities, Fairfax County Archives, Grants & Funding Research Center, Public Services Support, and Library Administration.

    – The fiscal year 2009 Adopted Budget is $33,109,573.
    – Expenditures for books and materials in fiscal year 2008 was $4,853,488.

    Public Use in Fiscal Year 2009:
    – 489,658 registered customers.
    – 6,123,486 visits to library branches.
    – 13,931,027 items loaned.
    -4,206,393 visits to the library’s Internet site.
    – 114,990 people attended 4,742 programs.

    Staffing and Volunteers in Fiscal Year 2009:
    – 527.75 full-time-equivalent (FTE) employees, including — 141.075 FTE with master’s degrees in library science.
    – Volunteers donated more than 142,854.46 hours.

    Other Income in Fiscal Year 2009:
    – $648,741 from Virginia state aid.
    – $57,163 from the City of Fairfax library services contract.

    Services and Programs:
    – More than 2.5 million items available for circulation to card holders
    – Meet the Author programs
    – Online access to library accounts, program registration, meeting room reservation, databases, moderated discussions, podcasts, downloadable books and video and a vast array of useful data
    – The Center for the Book, affiliated with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the Library of Congress
    – Reference services in branches and through “Ask A Librarian” via live chat, e-mail and text message (571-247-5703)
    – Early literacy outreach
    Newsletters including This Month, FCPLEASE, Loud & Clear and Show of Hands
    Grants & Funding Research Center

  134. Which, with some quick math puts cost per customer at about 60 or 70 bucks a year for the library and around 19,000 bucks a year for the schools.

  135. We’re seeing the same effect on the Left Coast, magnified by the fact that our library funding is primarily out of sales tax money, so it dives in recession (local government is anti new business, but that’s another story).

    We’ve seen hours and book budgets shrink, but the peculiarly California touch is that there’s now a proposal to farm out the operation of the whole system to a private firm. Seems silly, but in California that gets out from under the immense burden of the Calpers public employee pension system, and would apparently yield a saving of several hundred thousand dollars a year, while still providing a profit to the contractor.

    The public pension system is pretty unaccountable, and blew away a lot of money in speculative investment before the recent bubble burst.

    I’m not sure privatization would really work well, but we’ve seen the existing system do pretty silly things. In our previous city (also in California), the city signed a contract with the union that barred any use of part time or volunteer staff.

    That doesn’t really encourage folks to vote to provide more money.

  136. Bill (bnt’OB’) @ 151 –

    “In our previous city (also in California), the city signed a contract with the union that barred any use of part time or volunteer staff.”

    That makes no sense. I mean the motion to ban volunteers; I’m not calling shennanigans on you.

    What’s the background to that? Librarians unionized and ousted volunteers? It seems like their negotiations may have gotten out of control.

    one detail from the fairfax county stats I was happy to see. Almost 143,000 volunteer hours. I figure that’s roughly 15 full time positions filled for the year. Starting teacher pay in fairfax is 40k, so it’s maybe the equivalent of saving six hundred thousand dollars. Or, maybe a full time for free employee at each branch.

    Libraries are important, but they should be supported by the community where possible. Then again, if you want professional, knowledgable staff (like 25% of fairfax librarian employees with masters degrees) you’ve got to pay for it.

    But that certainly shouldn’t exclude the support of the community.

  137. JLR @148, again, “everybody disagrees with me!” does not make you clever or your argument coherent. Holding up a finger to determine which way the prevailing sentiment blows and running in the other direction as hard as you can doesn’t make you an original thinker, just a reflexive contrarian. It especially doesn’t help the Smarter Than All Y’Alls image when you plainly didn’t read any of the reasons people have given for being pro-library.

    So, first you argue that libraries are a “throw back” and bookstores make libraries obsolete, then drop this argument when even you realize it’s patently stupid; then you argue that libertarianism is “VERY relevant” but then throw an angry when it’s suggested that you’re trying to make a libertarian argument; and you seize on the idea of “entertainment” as the sole purpose for libraries, ignoring the many posts discussing libraries’ role as a source for reference materials, Internet access, homework assistance and educational programs, just to name a handful.

    Perhaps there is an argument to be made that libraries’ functions in this regard should be or have been replaced by other institutions; or that tax dollars are the wrong source for funding libraries. You haven’t made that argument. “Get over it” and “I have daughters” are not arguments. Not good ones, anyway.

    If you do have a goal other than preening about how much smarter you are than all those silly library-huggers, by the way, what you’re shooting for is not “approval” (mine, Scalzi’s, or anyone else’s); it’s “persuasiveness”. Persuasiveness is not generally achieved by ignoring what people have already said, calling them a bunch of idiots, and continually changing your argument while insisting that they’re nonetheless still a bunch of idiots (after all, they disagreed with you, didn’t they?).

  138. Sorry to be blunt about it, but, when in these tough recessionary times, a little girl goes without a publically funded novel to pass the time during her hair appointment… is it a shame?

    No, but it is kind of a shame in these tough recessionary times if a student can’t get a copy of the $80 class textbook that her merit scholarship simply can’t stretch far enough to cover because it’s paying for room and board and food and stuff.

    (Oxford English Dictionary: full set, $975 sale price on Use of: integral to passing one’s linguistics major. How on earth did this even become an argument? Why do we think libraries are primarily in the business of providing novels, again? I remember mainly using them in high school to look up resources for term papers in English and science classes — books, studies, magazine articles back in the days of microfiche, har har…)

  139. Why do we think libraries are primarily in the business of providing novels, again?

    Mac, it’s that Calvinist strain of thought; okay, we have to put up with people who have less money that we do (either God says we have to, or we don’t want them rioting and stealing our stuff), but by cracky we don’t have to make charity pleasant for the ungrateful bastards.

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