Fox Chicago News recently asked “Are Libraries Necessary, or a Waste of Tax Money?”  Really?  The article by Anna Davlantes goes on to talk about how libraries “eat up millions of your hard earned tax dollars” and as proof of the irrelevancy of libraries, an undercover camera crew recorded library visitors for an hour.  During that hour, they recorded 300 visitors with most of them using the free internet.  Hmmm…

This is your proof that libraries are irrelevant?  Three hundred visitors with “most” of them using the free internet?  Did you ask them why they were using internet access at the library instead of in their homes?  Could it be that they can’t afford internet access?  In case you haven’t noticed, the economy has tanked and internet access is a luxury that some people truly cannot afford.  Did you ask the computer users what types of sites they were accessing?  How many of them were applying for jobs?  Many jobs now require that you apply online.  Were some of them looking for continuing education opportunities?  And so what if they were just spending an hour or so surfing the web?  Escapism helps people cope, no matter what form that escapism may take.

Libraries are more than book repositories, they are gateways to information and entertainment.  Just ask any librarian what he or she does all day and you’ll find that more often than not we’re not just pointing out the latest best sellers.  We’re helping people put together resumes, we’re showing them how to care for loved ones, we’re introducing children to books and creating lifelong learners through story time and we’re demonstrating the latest in technology.  And, yes, we’re helping people find books.

Rather than trying to point out how libraries “eat up tax dollars,” how about taking the time to get to know your local librarian and see how their services help those in need?

Ok, I first saw the Wyoming Libraries Mud Flap Girl in an email from one of my listservs.  Initially, I thought Hmmm, cute…a little ballsy, especially for a library.  But on some level, I also felt a little squeemish.  Like the Cool Librarian, I’m neither a prude nor am I lacking a sense of humor but this is a tough one.  I think it’s made even more difficult because I was totally disillusioned at a library staff meeting a couple of days ago.

You see, our library blocks MySpace, unless a patron is over the age of 18 and specifically asks for it to be unblocked.  And I completely understand the rationale–a while back a patron from our library made contact with a girl in another county, met her and raped her.  Now as a precaution against lawsuits, our library has taken to blocking MySpace. 

The idea that we are blocking access to a legitimate site flies in the face of everything that I learned in library school.  We are supposed to be a place where people can come and have unrestricted access to information.  If we start blocking sites out of fear of what could possibly happen, why don’t we start banning certain books because of what someone may learn from reading them (murder novels, sorcery books, etc.).  Why don’t we start keeping certain patrons out of the building because they look like potential killers, rapists, extortionists etc.

Maybe I’m reaching, but I’m a little peeved that our library is blocking a site because of a perceived danger while another library is using the very thing we’re hoping to keep out to sell their services, so to speak.