"The Commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty." That's what it says on the side of the Boston Public Library building. These days order and liberty don't need to be safeguarded, I guess, or at least libraries have nothing to do with it since that requires the education of the people. Educating the people is so boring, though. These days the Boston Public Library is "moving with the times," according to this article. "At the Boston Public Library each month, teenagers get down to the vigorous techno thumps of the popular arcade game Dance Dance Revolution."
Kimberly Lynn, president of the Massachusetts Library Association, likes it. "We are not your grandmother's library," she says, whatever that means. What if my grandmother lives in Boston, though? Doesn't that mean you are in fact my grandmother's library? Oh, I know. It means they don't like old people in the library. Old people read books and pay taxes and stuff. Teens "get down" to "vigorous techno thumps." I have to admit, my grandmother doesn't do that very often. I haven't seen her get down a vigorous techno thump since Christmas two years ago when she'd had too much sherry and my brother started playing some Dave Clarke music. It wasn't a pretty sight.
According to the article, "In the era of waning readership and Internet search engines, libraries in Massachusetts and across the country are shifting their resources and expertise to areas once unthinkable." Resources, sure, but expertise? Where's the expertise? "Public libraries are finding new niches that make them appealing to patrons, and patrons are increasingly using libraries as a free alternative to DVD rentals, music stores, Internet cafés, and even gaming arcades." Oh, expertise in being Internet cafes and gaming arcades. I guess I missed that class in library school. Maybe my library school just wasn't hip enough.
And what's the appeal for the patrons? "People are realizing how much money they can save their family, not going to a video rental store or even buying DVDs but instead renting them for a week for free," said a video librarian. Hmm, I wonder if they could save any money for their family by lowering their taxes by, say, reducing library taxes. I for one don't want to subsidize video arcades. That's what we have malls for.
The danger is that if libraries don't "move with the times," that is, become something else other than libraries, they'll close. "Library officials do not have to look far to see what happens when towns decide their services have become irrelevant. Last summer, libraries in Saugus and Bridgewater, which had relied mostly on books, were on the verge of being shut down and were forced to reduce their hours." Better to do anything to get people through the door than educate the people to safeguard order and liberty. Hey, let's have dance parties! Yay! People like to dance!
"It's cool that we have activities other than reading books at the library now," said Leon Shaw, 15, panting after a particularly difficult Dance Dance Revolution pirouette in one of the library's basement rooms last week. "More libraries should do this." Finally, libraries are "cool." And reading books is so boring compared to dancing. Now dancing, that's important! Reading isn't very important. Let's not try to get the kids reading, like some foolish librarians want. Let's get them dancing!
As one teen librarian says, "We're not only trying to meet the [patrons'] reading needs but we also want to meet their social and recreational needs. This is where libraries are going." But if they're not reading anyway, why bother to try to meet their reading needs? Why not save money you might have spent on books and buy video games instead? Oh wait, that's what you're already doing. Good job!
I'm glad somebody is finally admitting it. Social and recreational needs. The library as recreation center. Why doesn't the ALA change its mission statement to reflect that this is "where libraries are going"? Here's what the ALA says its mission is:
"The mission of the American Library Association is to provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all."
I'm not sure the ALA accomplishes any part of this mission, but it's definitely time they "move with the times." If they want to support libraries, then they should say they want to improve library and entertainment services to ensure access to entertainment for all. We can all entertain ourselves to death while education, order, and liberty disappear.
I keep hearing that "professional" librarians need master's degrees. Does an MLS now qualify one to run a recreation center? Obviously library "education" needs to change as well. It's already intellectually stultifying, but now library schools should just close down. Buying video games and hosting dance parties isn't professional library work by any stretch of the imagination. So why should libraries hire people with library degrees? What a waste of money.
If librarians want a good way to deprofessionalize themselves and completely convert themselves to clerks, what better way than hosting dance parties and staying fully stocked with DVDs? You don't need a master's degree to work at Blockbuster. You don't need a master's degree to run a recreation center. Important as these jobs might be, they don't require even the laughable education an MLS provides. So public libraries should save themselves the money that might be spent hiring so-called "educated," "professional" librarians, which is ironic since it's obvious that librarians are "moving with the times" not because people need more "free" entertainment, but because otherwise the libraries will close down and librarians will lose their jobs.
The Commonwealth requires the entertainment of the people as the safeguard of librarian jobs.