As part of my mea culpa for foolishly combining two very different issues in a very bad post last month, I want to offer some advice to public libraries on how to be even more popular and how to be everything to everybody. I've come to my senses, and realize now that public libraries are there to provide what the public wants, and what the public wants is bread and circuses, with as little bread as many circuses as possible! After some holiday reflection, I also realize that the "Bread and Circuses" approach to public libraries is also probably the best way to thwart the revolutionary social change that some people think libraries should provide. "Library as Entertainment Center" is considerably more refreshing than "Library as Revolutionary Socialist Change Agent." Some reactionaries would like to see the "Library as Preserver of Culture and Provider of Important Information with Maybe a Little Trash Thrown in for Good Measure," but that's too retro for most people.
The great thing is that Leslie Burger agrees with me for once! She also thinks that public libraries exist to provide the lowest common denominator of popular entertainment, and that they serve no nobler purpose. From the Washington Post: "'I think the days of libraries saying, "We must have that, because it's good for people," are beyond us,' said Leslie Burger, president of the American Library Association and director of Princeton Public Library. 'There is a sense in many public libraries that popular materials are what most of our communities desire.'" You go, Leslie! None of that nonsense about the commonwealth requiring the education of the people as the safeguard or order and liberty for her! We truly live in a Golden Age of Librarianship!
So now we have it from the Glorious President of the ALA herself that libraries are just popular entertainment centers, but how do we make them even more popular? Sure, getting rid of musty old "great books" and all that boring non-fiction about history and government and politics that nobody reads and is so depressing anyway is a great start. But what next? People have made all sorts of great suggestions on how to get bums on seats in public libraries, from videogaming to food fights, but I would like to offer a few humble suggestions of my own. Here are five services libraries could offer that are almost guaranteed to bring in more business, and they make at least as much sense as playing videogames.
Free Coffee Bar
This should be a no-brainer. Public libraries should have lots of free coffee on hand at all times. And I don't mean one of those two-pot convenience store apparatuses with a caff and a decaf in those dreary brown and orange pots. I mean an espresso machine at the very least. If I could drop by my local library to get my skim latte every morning, I'd save hundreds of dollars a year, all of which would immediately go to my favorite charity--me!
This would definitely bring in the punters! Heck, if my local library offered a Happy Hour (perhaps with $2 Bombay martinis, if I might make a suggestion), I'd probably go every day, and I haven't set foot in my local library in years! With the latte in the morning and the martini after work, I could begin and end my day at the public library, just like public librarians do! To boost circulation of more "traditional" library items, perhaps folks would have to check out a CD or a videogame to qualify for a cheap drink.
Internet Porn Classes
Libraries should offer classes in Internet Porn! Searching for, of course, not creating. There are some things that are still beyond the pale in libraries, and while Internet searching is definitely within the bailiwick of librarians, being porn stars definitely isn't. I don't think we need to go into the reasons. But why not use those Internet searching skills to help people find the "information" they really want! Since the majority of websites are porn sites (at least according to something I read once but can't remember enough to cite), one might think that finding the stuff is easy. But this is a case of drowning in information, so we'll have to throw in some crucial evaluation skills as well. Maybe we could call it InfoPorn Literacy! InfoPorn Literacy helps people exercise their Intellectual Freedom!
Private Internet Viewing Booths
This would be a great way to let people practice the skills being taught in InfoPorn Literacy. These would draw in all sorts of people, from disgusting old perverts, to disgusting young perverts. They would probably draw in the teenage boys as well, what with all their tempestuous little hormones raging all over the place and not enough privacy at home. Computers in the public area are so, well, public. Intellectual freedom can't really be exercised without privacy. Libraries are all about privacy, right? That's a prime tenet of the ALA. I think I'm on pretty solid ground with this one.
I might be going out on a limb here, since strippers could bring in a seedy element. What am I saying? That's just discrimination! Besides, only female strippers bring in the seedy element--drooling salesmen, maverick cops, etc. That's why libraries should have male strippers as well, who are much less seedy. I saw a male stripper once at a bridal shower, and it was a very tasteful event, at least until my best friend's cousin brought out the whipped cream. The less said about the aftermath the better, but let's just say I've never looked at a banana split the same way again.