Friday, December 12, 2008
Is the Library a Bureaucratic Bargain Basement Behemoth?
The editor of my local paper, The Mille Lacs Messenger, recently wrote an editorial that was quite critical of the library "If I were a Friend of the Library" (Dec. 10, 2008) . Although part of the article was related to some local wrangling about where a possible satellite library should be located in Onamia, Mr. Brett Larson managed to throw a few bombs toward the library. Here are a few of my answers:
1) East Central Regional Library is not a "bureaucratic behemoth". It is the smallest, most modest system in the state. The offices of ECRL are in a basement and consist of a director and an assistant director. A board that meets monthly, consisting of citizens and county commissioners largely oversees the budget. This is a public institution and if there are to be more branches, then the counties and the board have to agree to set aside more budget money to pay for them.
2) "Books are a dime a dozen," Mr. Larson says. If you are looking for any old book, then you probably can find one for very cheap. But often people are looking for a specific book. They may want the newest book or a best seller. Or maybe they are looking for a book on how to build a shed or train a puppy or cook a souffle. They may have a health issue that they need up-to-date information about or they may even be looking for a classic they can't find in the used book store.
3) "It costs more to pay the fines than it does to buy a classic." I can only conclude that Mr. Larson has had a bad early experience with libraries. The fines at ECRL are 10 per day, per item. Notices are usually sent out within a week if you are late with an item. The maximum fine for an item is $6.00 for adults and $2.00 for children. Lost items are of course more. Fines may be a disincentive for some people to use the library, but most people can return their items in a timely fashion--three weeks is usually long enough to read a book.
4)"[with volunteers] you can keep it open more hours than the average ECRL branch." The Mille Lacs Lake Community Library--the smallest ECRL branch--is open 30 hours a week. Milaca is open 37 and Aitkin is open 48. Of course volunteers are great at the library and we appreciate ours, but to ask volunteers to commit that much time to keeping a facility open is unrealistic. It is also difficult to ask volunteers to do the myriad other jobs that librarians do, from organizing materials, and displays to planning programs.
5)"it'll be just as good or better than the bargain basement library the ECRL can afford". Mr. Larson may not understand that it is the city that builds and maintains the library. ECRL does not provide money for facilities. They only provide the staff and materials. The city of Onamia only suggested the Depot because it is a facility that they currently own. It is also handicapped accessible and has bathrooms. The city does not own or maintain the Ralph Olson Center--that is owned by District #480.
It is certainly unfortunate that the Tourism Council that is now in the Depot was not informed about the City Council's decision to allow the building to be used as a library also. But there is no reason that these two entities can't co-exist. A library does not spring fully formed from a "behemoth" like ECRL. It is built gradually over the years by a community. The Mille Lacs Branch was in a tiny old school house for 7 years before it moved to its new location in city hall.
I know that Mr. Larson was just trying to ruffle some feathers with his "outrageous" comments. I just can't quite believe that he would be such a bully to pick on such a humble organization as ECRL.