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…
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?
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.