IST 511 – Day 5

This was hand-crafted in JFK on Saturday, but the WiFi in my wing did not work so well. Here we go!

So Friday was our poster session, which we did in the style of a conference poster session. Lots of topics, lots of people passing through with passing curiosity. Our main focus was to tackle a topic that is contentious for librarians – there are plenty of controversies on which librarians agree for the most part, after all. You can find Harry Potter on the shelves, right?

Our poster began as a search into controversial forms of funding libraries. After all, the American Library Association is against charging fees of any kind – to the point of being against overdue fines. Charging for services discriminates against those who cannot pay, and discourages those who can. Or so goes the argument. So what did we find?

We didn’t find what I thought might be out there – some library trying, at least, to make enough to stay in business. Instead, we found lots of instances of individual services being charged for, perpetuating themselves, while the library continued to be funded overall by grants or local governments.

Some funding ideas included charging for new fiction and dvds, charging for guest cards for out-of-area users, and even charging for a library card. Then there is fee land, for services like inter-library loan, hold requests being mailed out, and so on. There are lots of ways that libraries are trying to save money and still provide what people want, like using NetFlix to get movies to rent to people.

In Europe, paying for library use or items seems far more common, though still not universal. However, in talking about adopting what these libraries are doing, the argument tends to be: “These are the services people would like to see if they were paying for them. Now, let us provide those services for free.”

This is a funding problem, since of course the underlying tension to our project was that libraries are being closed nationwide, and supporting themselves somewhat might not be terrible – better to charge a small fee for a service than to not provide that service, or worse to not even have the library.

We found a lot of libraries that charge for this or that, but not a lot of systematic research about charging or operating more like a business, even if the business model was that of a non-profit. The argument stayed the same: “Think like a business would, and then provide that for free.” These are hard standards to live up to, and this is definitely a realm where increased research could benefit the profession.

But it’s not all about us! There were thirteen other groups, who looked at a lot of other issues:

  • Filtering the Internet in school libraries. Required as a condition of the library getting some federal funding, so it is an attached string. However, kids know ways to get around the filter, so it is more a hindrance than anything.
  • Access to print materials in school libraries. Should sixth graders be reading Twilight? I know a teacher friend of mine taught it in sixth grade. Harry Potter? Captain Underpants? Graphic Novels? There were kids at Watchmen when I went to see it, after all. Their parents seemed cool with the violence, but not the sex. Charged issue, anyway.
  • Should the library be a home for a collection of information only, or should it also be a community meeting space? Everything from Facebook use on the computers to new gaming programs stretch the meaning of a library. But what does the taxpaying community want?
  • What do you do with librarians who are not keeping up with the times? The digital divide exists all over these days. Do you force training on someone who is not keeping up? Or do you retire them and hire young hipster librarians? Wait, is that what I’m going to be?
  • Electronic resources and interlibrary loan. The copyright and licensing laws for this are very confusing, but libraries have been getting in trouble for sharing these. Is losing this service worth the convenience of online collection?
  • Internet filtering in public libraries. Similar to above, still trying to “protect the children” but now interfering with everyone’s right to open information.
  • Should we keep the Dewey Decimal system? It’s an old and somewhat biased system. However, what to replace it with? I know that Library of Congress annoys me…
  • Who has access to library community meeting spaces? When controversial groups such as skinheads come to use the space – and incur a large security expense and/or protesting – why does the library have to swallow this whole expense? But how do you turn people away? Some groups seem to be taking advantage of the library’s openness.
  • Library space in Second Life. Apparently usage of the library islands for their own sake is low – usage of these islands as a sanctuary from all of the rest of Second Life is high. Then again, anything that brings people to information, right? Any port in a storm. In this case, a storm of gambling and sex. Second Life is Vegas?…
  • Is virtual reference going to replace in-person reference help? Maybe, if all reference librarians go the direction of the representative of the university Writing Center who visited class Friday – we had trouble explaining the idea of a phone meeting with a writing consultant. But I digress. Virtual reference can allow for 24/7 assistance, but apparently takes longer than an in-person reference meeting, and is less successful. Is this just because it is new and the difficulties are being worked out, or is it an inherent problem to virtual reference?
  • Embedding librarians all over a university campus, like in the dorms or other campus buildings. A useful resource in some of the academic buildings? Maybe. But librarians in the dorms made people uncomfortable sometimes. And doing this requires really good marketing, or it is a waste of a staff member.
  • E-books in academic libraries? Useful to save space, provide easy and quick access, but nowhere near having a universal standard. Looks like both the technology and the policies aren’t there yet. Hey, where did my 1984 go?
  • And… one other group I didn’t get a handout from, because they ran out. Shoot, I should really be able to remember this. Information overload, I guess! Sorry guys, it was great, really!

The groups had a lot of good material, and my group was phenomenal to work with. Group work might be an okay prospect moving forward, which will be a nice change of pace!


About CompGeeksDavid
Co-founder, editor, podcaster, web comicer, forum moderator, and writer for Comparative Geeks. Father, husband, geek, nerd, gamer, librarian, Christian, Libertarian, Science Fiction philosopher, and probably a number of other descriptors.

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