Update: My Rant on Little Free Libraries

When I wrote my rant about Little Free Libraries, you would have thought I was criticizing apple pie and baseball. For the record, I love apple pie but can’t stand baseball (the game is long and my attention span is not). I was called everything from an “elitist prick” to a child hater to being against literacy.

Do I stand by my thoughts on Little Free Libraries?…for the most part. But here are a few points I want to refine.

1. Engagement with Your Local Public Library
If people spent the amount of time they devote to Little Free Libraries and used that time to lobby for their local public libraries, THAT would be a good thing. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but citizen action is good.

2. Library “Deserts”
You’ve heard of “food deserts“? The same thing applies to people who live in urban and rural areas that don’t have easy access to a public library. This is an opportunity for public libraries to partner with groups to sponsor Little Free Libraries with materials that people in those communities would be interested (e.g., let’s NOT go down to the local used “book barn” and pick up dusty copies of all old books) in reading.

3. Go Where Needed
This is related to above. If public libraries don’t want to partner on this, then think about where your LFL might be most needed. I’ll be blunt (warning: mini-rant ahead!): I get that you like to read. And you want to put something cute in your front yard. But ask yourself this: If you live in a predominantly homogenous, middle to upper class neighborhood with low unemployment, good schools, and easy access to a library, is your LFL helping that many people out? Why not partner with people in other neighborhoods who might benefit more? Step out of your comfort zone.

4. But I Still Want a Little Free Library!
No one is stopping you (for the most part; see below). But instead of just throwing a bunch of books in the box (which is mostly the depressing feel I get when I visit one), think about what might interest people in your neighborhood. Or maybe do a “theme” LFL and promote in your city. Maybe you can be the LFL for sci-fi or fantasy YA lit or Christian lit in your community.

5. Tear Down this LFL? No.
Should a 9-year old boy have to beg city council to keep his Little Free Library open? No, of course not! I’m generally a “reliable liberal” (or whatever that category was on the Pew survey). However, when it comes to my property, I take a decidedly libertarian bent. Put up all the LFLs on your property that you want!

So yeah, Little Free Libraries are fun. They can create excitement and collaboration in the community. It’s just not a catch-all solution to things like access and funding of brick-and-mortar libraries and the services they provide. And they shouldn’t be. They’re a different animal.

 

 

A Little Rant on Little Free Libraries (aka probably an unpopular post)

Update to my post – 16 July 2014

Within a two mile radius of my little corner of Brookfield, Wisconsin there are four Little Free Libraries. I like the concept: People sharing books. People creating a collection. People encouraging reading. Targeting under-served areas/people. Those are good things. But it’s not a library. And I feel guilty and elitist for saying it. I mean, how could you not love this?

little free libraries. A Creative Commons-licensed photo via Flickr user davidsilver: https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidsilver/11783413894/

little free libraries. A Creative Commons-licensed photo via Flickr user davidsilver: https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidsilver/11783413894/

There are, of course, benefits to the little free libraries movement. Lane Wilkinson discusses this in his What can we learn from DIY libraries post and Tara Murray writes about it in her post, Truly DIY Libraries.

Do I feel like a little free library is seriously encroaching on a “real” library’s mission and objectives? No.

But here’s what I do worry about: the general public’s perception and the lumping together of little free libraries and actual “real” public libraries.

“Hey look, any volunteer can create a library!”

“Why do we need trained professionals when an 17-year old Eagle Scout has put together such a nice library?”

“Why do we need our tax money to go to something that can be done for FREE?”

“With these Little Free Libraries, we can just cut grants to libraries and use that money elsewhere.” (oh wait, that’s already being proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan.)

A library is not a wooden box. Above all, a library is:

  • a place both physical and virtual
  • a place to get help
  • a place to get information
  • a place to collaborate
  • a place to learn
  • a place to socialize

A handcrafted box of books – no matter how lovely (and many are!) – is not a library. It’s an open bookdrop. A library is more than just that.

Disappearing Information

Let me be up front: I’m not a gov docs expert, but I do get irked when tax money that was used to collect Census info isn’t being used to make (or maintain) that information in an easily accessible manner to the public. It reminds me of last year’s debacle with the Statistical Abstract of the United States.

I’m talking about last week’s web conference on the recently re-designed American FactFinder from the U.S. Census Bureau. Basically, the issue boils down to this: American FactFinder will only contain data from the two most recent decennial U.S. censuses (currently 2000 and 2010). So once 2020 data is available, we can say “bye bye” to 2000, because then it will hold 2010 and 2020. This doesn’t make sense. You can find out more on this topic by looking at the GOVDOC-L discussion list archives from this month.

Researching trends with our populace over time is common among both social scientists and humanities scholars. You can’t tell me that a system can only “hold” data from two censuses. What compounds the problem is that the Census data is no longer released in a tangible format. So once it’s gone from the Census Bureau website, then it’s pretty much gone for good–at least as far as the general public is concerned. Now, the U.S. Census Bureau did say you could FTP to the older Census information, but that doesn’t boil down to easy access.

Our tax dollars go to support the collection of this information. We deserve to have this information (current and historical) displayed publicly, online, and in an easy-to-use format. Librarians have stood aside as the “gatekeepers” to information. Now we emphasize “access.” But we’re losing that now, too.

Save the Statistical Abstract!

There is no other single statistical source as useful as the Statistical Abstract of the United States. Published since 1878, it is the “go to” source for statistics on “the social, political, and economic organization of the United States.”

When I get a statistical question at the reference desk, I’m always amazed at how many times the information can be answered from just this one source. Why then, is the Census Bureau cutting it?

Last Friday, I started seeing tweets about this. Sure enough, the U.S. Census Bureau budget estimates for FY 2012 [pdf, p. 82] recommend elimination of the Statistical Abstract program:

The availability elsewhere of much of the information in the Statistical Abstract has led the Department and Census Bureau to the difficult decision to terminate the program.

The availability “elsewhere” of the information? Hey, Census Bureau: where might that be? It’s surely not in one convenient location! I do love the online version of the Statistical Abstract, but what about people on the other side of the digital divide? In fact, a quick look at the 2011 Statistical Abstract shows that still 31% of Americans have no Internet access in their homes! [Table 1155]. This source is vitally important to libraries. PS: The “information age” is supposed to make finding information easier, not harder!

The elimination of the Statistical Abstract program saves $2.9 million and 24 FTE positions: a drop in the bucket when compared to the whole budget. More information on this and other statistical sources being eliminated is available on the University of Michigan Population Studies Center blog. Check out the GOVDOC-L discussion list for more info, too.

This is what it comes down to for me: the Census Bureau collects information about us. Therefore, we, the people, deserve free and unfettered access to this information. Please contact your representative and senators and urge them to keep funding the Statistical Abstract program. Contact the Census Bureau to tell them we still need these resources!

“Helping you make informed decisions” is the slogan of the Census Bureau. With the elimination of the Statistical Abstract, the Census Bureau is abandoning its own mission.