Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.

2006-02-10

Investing in the Children's Section

There's an interesting article in this month's Bookslut about libraries: Investing in the Children's Section.

The article is packed with food for thought, and Sophie and I e-mailed back and forth about it quite a bit. The good (and there's lots of good to be found here): someone who is not a librarian writing positive things about libraries. Yay! Finally!

Some of my favorite quotes included this one: "But [children's books] are also investments in the future, and vital if we want libraries of the future to be anything more than Internet cafes."

When the author, James Stegall, mentioned the things he loves about his current library, I wanted to both cheer and take notes. About displays: "[displays are] awesome for a parent like me who can't watch an overactive toddler and browse the stacks at the same time. . . . I usually grab books as I go past." He talks highly of the toys available to keep kids occupied, the artwork that is inspiring and entertaining, puppets, comfortable chairs, and discovery boxes that can be checked out.

I wanted to cheer; yes, the customers get it. They value what we are doing. They are sharing it with others. We aren't the "best kept secret."

Then I read the second part of Stegall's article and realized that if librarians are accomplishing stage one -- libraries no longer being the "best kept secret" -- we still have work to do on stage two: funding and money, and having customers realize that how we are funded matters and that we need money to keep being a wonderful resource. Because if a supporter like Stegall doesn't get it, it's not his fault. It's ours, for not speaking up.

What do I mean? Stegall suggests that smaller, less funded libraries can have "reading and craft hours run by volunteers, art by local kids on the walls. These activities are something money can't buy." He also notes that "Libraries are constantly in need of volunteers, and it's at the smallest and poorest that an individual can have the most impact." And suggests that "Small libraries could also use all the beautiful children's books your kids are tired of now."

Prior to some of these suggestions, Stegall asked "What can make a great children's section in your library aside from a big budget?" and those answers show that he's thinking of answers other than budget.

Libraries don't need "big budgets". But they need a budget big enough so that the library is staffed by librarians have MLIS degrees. They need a budget big enough to pay these degreed professionals salaries sufficient to support their families and pay their bills. The library, your library, needs a budget big enough so that people willl want to be public librarians, and can afford to be public librarians, and your public library has the trained staff it deserves.

Libraries need a budget big enough so that they have the staff to interview, train, evaluate, and monitor volunteers -- because it takes more than good intentions to do storytimes and crafts. Especially with a roomful of rowdy seven year olds.

Libraries need a budget big enough so that the staff who do storytimes can go to workshops about early literacy and special education students and toddlers with ASD.

Libraries need a budget big enough to buy the supplies for the crafts.

Libraries need a budget big enough to catalog and process material donations that are in good shape.

Libraries need a budget big enough to buy new materials that they -- as trained librarians -- know are needed to make the collection wonderful and useful and timely and accurate.

Volunteers are appreciated; they aren't the answer. Libraries need big enough budgets to get the job done.

And how do we get those budgets? Customer support at elections, customer support during bond issues, customer support at every level. Customers who say, the library has given value to my life and so that's where I want my tax dollars to go. Customers who realize that there is no substitute to a good local library and will help do what is necessary to keep that library going -- with a big enough budget.

And that's our stage two.

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