Image [cc] mtsofan

Very interesting story from The Daily Beast over the weekend that talks about the situation we have with public libraries in the United States, and the delimma of cutting services and budgets during a time when demand for these services is booming. In her story, “Can Libraries Survive in an Era of Budget Cutbacks?”, Miranda Green discusses what she refers to as the Catch 22 of today’s Public Library:

Essentially, libraries are closing down just when their communities need them the most.

Public libraries have been in the business of helping those in their community who lack their own resources for nearly as long as there has been such a concept of a public library. When times are hard, the group of people that need the resources provided by a public library increases, while at the same time, the funding structure tends to collapse. For those of us in the legal industry, we see a similar problem with Legal Aid programs.

Green’s article lays out a number of challenges that public libraries face when the economy takes a downturn, or there is a natural disaster that effects the community. If you’re a librarian, you’ve probably heard all of these stories before. If you’re not a librarian, read the story, then read some of the comments below the story, and see the counter arguments. It is interesting to see what those with their own resources tend to see what the library does, and how easily it can be fixed. I think most librarians will agree with me about the common two-pronged answer that commenters (most of whom haven’t used a public library in years) make that say public libraries could easily be fixed if they:

  1. Made it look more like a Barnes & Noble
  2. Added in a Starbucks-like coffee bar

Yes… that’s exactly what someone who is looking for work and having to use a library computer to job hunt because they don’t have a computer or Internet service back at their apartment needs. Public libraries provide services to those that lack the means to obtain those services on their own. Creating a B&N environment and coffee bar may be nice for those of us with means, but it is not the primary driver of the value a public library provides to its community. If the libraries fold, you can believe that Barnes and Noble or Starbucks will not be there to provide those services. It’s no more their job than it is the library’s to provide you with a coffee bar.