Of Media Equity & Library Reciprocity

I do believe that this is the first blog post I’ve ever written on request. However David Rothman and I participated in last night’s episode of Uncontrolled Vocabulary and during the after show he asked that I funneled some of my "righteous indignation" into a blog post. David is the one who came up with "media equity" and "library reciprocity" which I totally love. So, in exchange for those terms, I write this post. Honestly, I’ve blogged some of this stuff before (but it’s been a few years) and I think it comes across better vocally (listen to the episode, it’s story #2 which is about 15 minutes in) than in print but here goes…

Media Equity

Why do so many libraries insist on treating their public-access computers differently from every other type of media in the building. Think about it, anyone can come in off the street, whether they live in your town or not, pay taxes to your library or not, pull any book of the shelf sit down and read it. For audio if they’ve got a portable player with them they can do the same with CDs and/or tapes. But when it comes to the computers so many libraries require some sort of ID. Maybe a library card, maybe a driver’s license.

Why do we have to show ID to get a library card? Well, it’s not to track the patron, it’s to track the materials that they patron will be removing from the library. If they don’t return the item, we want to be able to track it down. Using materials in the library however required no ID, nor should it, ever! But when it comes to those darn computers, we require ID left and right.

Granted, some time management systems require a unique user ID and the library card is a convenient, pre-existing ID that we can reuse. But what about visitors to your town that don’t have a local library card? Give them a temp card but don’t make proving their ID a requirement for a guest card. What possible purpose could it serve? If you’ve got a "purpose" for me on this one then my response will be "then why don’t you require an ID to use a book in the library?" If a patron isn’t removing the resource from the library (wether book, CD, tape, magazine, or computer) what possible legitimate purpose does showing ID serve?

Library Reciprocity

This one is a little harder to explain, especially separately from the media equity issue since that issues typically leads to this one. Anyway… This is the attitude that typically bugs me: "You don’t pay taxes here therefore you don’t get services." While I understand that in principle, how it’s sometimes practiced is what drives me nuts. For example, "if you don’t pay taxes here you can’t use our computers." But wait, harkening back to media equity, if I don’t pay taxes to your library I can still walk in and read a book. Why should I have to pay taxes to your library to check my e-mail on a computer?

Another way to look at it is this: if every single one of your library’s tax payers demanded library services tomorrow, your library would collapse. You work off the assumption that not everyone who pays actually receives. Think of me, the outsider, as using the services that one of your tax payers isn’t. Ultimately, I’m paying taxes somewhere and maybe one of your locals is currently in my town wanting to use my library’s services. Isn’t it a wash in the end? (I realize that this is a harder point to agree with from certain points of view.)

I’m not advocating that anyone should be able to check out books from any library anywhere. There’s still the traceability of the item to contend with and loaning a book to someone from another state who’s just visiting could significantly increase the chance that the book isn’t returned. Remember, I’m talking about in-library use.

Lastly, what about tourist meccas that have "so many tourists" that to provide services to all the tourists would "prevent us from providing services to our public"? I’ve got some trouble with this too. By having this attitude you end up offending the tourists who just want to check their e-mail. Yeah, offend the tourists. Do that enough and they’ll stop coming. They stop coming and you loose what they contribute to your local economy, the budget suffers, and the local’s taxes go up. (A stretch but I’m trying to make a point here.)

Remember, it’s about service. Not service to "your" patrons but to patrons. Firemen and police don’t ask for proof of residency and tax payment before offering basic service. Why should libraries?

Thanks for listening. Now all you Uncontrolled Vocabulary people who promised to comment, it’s your turn.

9 Replies to “Of Media Equity & Library Reciprocity”

  1. Great post. The Library card requirement for computer use is probably solely to help monitor the computers. I wouldn’t do it otherwise.

    We have a problem with computers getting clogged during winter visitor season, but we set-up wireless internet and ended up expanding access by tripling the amount of computers (they are still clogged though 🙂 Winter visitors get free cards. Guests get charged $2 which does pay for the piece of plastic.

    The tax thing is a tough one. Reciprocal borrowing agreements come into play here. Anyone in the county can use our library or any library. Imagine if you had an agreement statewide? Then taxes wouldn’t be such an issue and anyone can get a card anywhere. It isn’t so much the argument that we don’t get your taxes, but that libraries agree that if your patron borrows from our library, our patrons can borrow from yours. The immediate reaction to that position is that bigger systems would cry that their resources are being drained and that their taxpayers pay more for their services than yours do.

  2. Police and fire do require someone to be in jurisdiction before they offer assistance. Typically, other jurisdictions are called in through an agreement to help each other, but they wouldn’t do it on their own.

    This case actually did come up in Maricopa County Arizona. A fire crew refused to assist in a house fire because he was in a county island and not in the jurisdiction. They just let it burn to the ground. It made the news.

  3. RE: reciprocal borrowing, after 10 years in Colorado where there was state-wide reciprocal borrowing maybe I’m just spoiled.

    RE: Fire and police, not to justify that decision, it was a case of them going outside of their jurisdiction not refusing to deal with someone who is in their jurisdiction but not resident in the jurisdiction as libraries will do.

  4. I’ve often wondered about that too. And it’s not just public libraries, but academics as well.

    Recently I traveled to our largest state university to do some research. Of course, getting books was super simple. But then I wanted to browse some databases that they had. This library only had six computers for public use (in a fairly large town, no less) and one was out-of-order. Additionally, it seemed that they had picked the most uncomfortable high stools and tables for these computers. The furniture and computers provided for those affiliated with the university were much nicer.

    But six computers? Come on! As a student at another university and a tax payer in the state (whose taxes support all the universities, this one included), I was quite appalled. At least where I work, we are willing to log people in as guests on our computer with no explanation needed other than that they happen to be here on campus for some reason.

    Seems like with so much yapping about access, the whole computer thing is all about limiting access to a certain group. Who cares where you from? It’s a public space! And some places are also getting federal dollars to provide some of that internet access or to provide computers for use.

    It’s just one way that libraries can appear unfriendly. Joe Schmoe off the street doesn’t care about our reasons. All he cares about is being able to check his email or find directions to the nearest restaurant.

  5. Great post, Michael!

    Here’s how my library works: each library branch has some computers that are dedicated solely to searching the catalog, and you don’t need a library card to use these. You do need a library card to use the full-service patron computers (you use your library card number to log into the computer) or to reserve a computer if all of them are currently in use. You don’t need to be a resident to get a library card (we’ve issued library cards to people from as far away as Paris, France, who were visiting and wanted to use our services). You do need an ID to get a library card, but it doesn’t have to be current–the library card will be “unverified” until we’re shown a valid ID or official piece of mail with your current address. An “unverified” card limits the number of items you can check out, and you can’t put holds on items, but it doesn’t limit your computer access at all. We try to make it easy, for residents and non-residents, to use our services, but yeah, we still have a few roadblocks.

    On the tax-paying front…if I’m visiting a town or city and I’m mugged in a police department’s jurisdiction, I’ll get the same service from the police as a local resident, won’t I? Besides, don’t tourists generally shop, paying sales tax that goes into local coffers?

  6. If you live “out of town” do you pay extra to use the streets and roads?…I don’t think so !

    And what about all the tourists that comes to town to visit a library to do research etc…..They do add to the local ecomomy.

  7. I vehemently disagree with EVERYTHING you said here! How dare you Michael!

    Now that’s out of the way. . .

    What Joshua described is pretty much the way we handle it here too — and I would call it a “best practice.” We require minimal ID to get a card that can access the Internet. We are more specific when it comes to borrowing books (we need a way to remind people to bring the books back).

    I also agree with Joshua about tourists and visitors. Libraries are a key attraction for tourists and bringing in tourists brings in revenue for businesses, which in turn creates jobs and improves the tax base. While I can understand the challenges some cash-strapped small libraries with high tourism could experience, doing what you can to accommodate visitors brings welfare to everyone in town. It can also be a useful avenue to request grant funding from government agencies. . .

  8. That’s good! Recently I traveled to our largest state university to do some research. Of course, getting books was super simple. But then I wanted to browse some databases that they had. This library only had six computers for public use (in a fairly large town, no less) and one was out-of-order. Additionally, it seemed that they had picked the most uncomfortable high stools and tables for these computers. The furniture and computers provided for those affiliated with the university were much nicer. I also agree with Joshua about tourists and visitors. Libraries are a key attraction for tourists and bringing in tourists brings in revenue for businesses, which in turn creates jobs and improves the tax base. While I can understand the challenges some cash-strapped small libraries with high tourism could experience, doing what you can to accommodate visitors brings welfare to everyone in town. It can also be a useful avenue to request grant funding from government agencies
    Sydney
    Equity Loans

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.