Philosophies and dreams for better libraries
Because so much of my material on Life is a Fountain is devoted to Libraries, it doesn’t seem sustainable for there to be just one Library page. And so I have created this one for issues devoted to the ideas and ideals of libraries.
Rather than the real world chaos my main library page is devoted to, Library Kingdom is a little more oriented to the beautiful dream of the library, to the ideal future of the library, and maybe even to the darkness that can settle into something as wonderful as a library.
For the more chaotic, fun loving, wide ranging Library page, hit the link below:
8/12/21: Weird experiment day!
Today I am going through every page I have in Life is a Fountain and adding something hopefully relevant to it from the annals of Clerkmanifesto. It’s my desperate attempt to freshen up everything after being away for a couple weeks. So here you go:
The end of reading arrived at a nondescript, large suburban library in Minnesota on the night of December 9, 2021, at 7:42 in the evening. Said library has long been one of the highest materials circulating public libraries for its size in the nation. Local library administrators had been forecasting the end of reading for fifteen years. They had planned accordingly. They looked like deranged cultists predicting the end of the world, never relenting in their mania of doom even as more and more people poured into the library to check out more and more of its never increasing collection.
But that wave broke. And what any doomsayer knows is that the predictions of doomsayers must all come true eventually. It’s simply a matter of waiting.
Well here it is then, the end of reading. Run for the hills libraries. Close your doors now forever bookstores. Make up your own ideas for movies, Hollywood. Cap your pens novelists. And Amazon? You may want to consider diversifying your product line beyond books.
The poets and bloggers can keep going though. I mean, same diff.
At the large suburban library, on the night when the end of reading arrived, the million dollar check in machine sat idle for 37 straight minutes. When nothing has been checked out there is nothing to return. All the library workers were dozing in their chairs. Was the end of reading coming?
But lo. A noise! What’s that? The automated door opens! The roller and laser eyes engage. Three books are coming down the line! Hooray, three books are coming. Books to sort. Books to file. Books to push about on carts! Books to peruse. Books to fix. Books to stack. Books to display and feature and recommend. Three books!
Come librarians, come clerks and pages, come janitorial workers, and come oh you volunteer with a developmental disability. Come gather round the great check in machine who gives us work and has finally stirred from its deep slumber. Come and rejoice. Here come the books running down the line! Three books!
Hey, these aren’t our books! These are low quality donations. These are unwanted books, foundling books, orphan books abandoned again at our door. Oh waily! Lo! This is all we are to receive, unwanted books all, for hard truth has broken through our gates, the end of reading has come.
Turn out the lights. Shut the doors and wrap them in chains. Burn the recommendation lists and the wooden displays to keep warm. Go home and bar your doors. The long cold has come and the Enlightenment is over. Forget the letters of the alphabet. You will need them no more. Close down your imagination. Put knick knacks on your bookshelves and keep your knowledge to yourself. There is no light left on in bookland, for the end of reading has come at last.
These are from the series called: If I were King of the Library. This is, naturally, their new home:
If I Were King of the Library, The First Decree
I like the sound of this title. And so this is the first of a series of imperious decrees for a library of my own, somewhere not far from here. If I were king of the library indeed! I’m all for it. But, as befits a series, instead of getting all sweeping and exhaustive, I start out with one modest, well, almost modest, kingly decree, perhaps a bit mundane, but perhaps a bit foundational as well.
Here is my decree:
Every employee in the building shall shelve materials for one hour every day they work.
Kings, Pages, Librarians, Board Members, Custodians, Computer Operators, Clerks, and Regional Managers all. It shall be the tithe and the fundament. So it is decreed this date etc. etc.
Here is the fine print and details:
1. This is prorated at a rate of 8 hours scheduled to 1 hour shelving. If, for instance, you work a 4 hour shift your shelving tithe will be 30 minutes. There is a minimum though of 15 minutes shelving, so if you are only coming to the building for an hour long managerial meeting make sure you still set aside 15 minutes extra for your shelving.
2. If you are physically unable to shelve you will work from a provided short list of mundane yet useful alternates.
3. No bartering away your shelving. This is soul work too.
4. If there is nothing left to shelve (something that never happens here, but could under this system) dig deeper. There are always things to shelve and a back up of shelving-like activities will be available if there really is nothing. However, on mornings where we are strongly caught up, the King, or a licensed associate, may declare a “Shelving Holiday” where all are released from the usual responsibilities of shelving for that day.
5. Shelving time is real time. Breaks taken during shelving do not count towards shelving.
Why I think this is an important and good idea:
I don’t have to say, for I am King!
Okay. I will say. It breaks down the overwrought hierarchy that I feel is slow poison to the system. It puts everyone in touch with the building and the collection. It’s better socialism and Libraries are, well, Socialist, except this one is with a King! And finally, most simply, many hands make light work.
So it is decreed again, this date, etc. etc.
The King of the Library, The Second Decree
Now that the King (me) has solved the shelving issue, what about the fun?
Fun goes to the passionate! Every quarter (that’s 4 times a year!) we fund pet projects. Who can apply? Anyone who works there! Hell, longtime volunteers can apply too, and my blog readers! What do we fund it with? Time and money and space. Oh, then hmph, grumble, and how do we pay for this?
Aha. The king puts his money where his mouth is. All the other functions of the library are hereby stripped to the bare bones. Acquisitions are greatly reduced. Classes are reduced. Programming is reduced. The library is simplified and reduced to its basics, and everything that it loses there is filled back in by these pet projects. How do we choose these pet projects? We vote, everyone votes. Everyone has to read every proposal and everyone votes on every project. So, um, can we see an example? Yes. We will pick something simple and basic lest you think the whole thing will be too much of a carnival.
Sylvia is a kids librarian and she likes being a kids librarian, but she loves jazz. She can’t stop thinking about jazz. She listens to it for hours and hours every night with her cat Thelonious. She wants a jazz corner at the library. As befits a library she believes it should be materials oriented. There will be a deep, deep master collection of CDs, the best of DVDs, books and even some long forgotten record albums. There will be a detailed and heavily stocked “Suggested” section as well. She wants a largish chunk of money and the equivalent of 2 hours a day to work on it. She also wants the maximum time for it. 2 years. After 2 years she would have to apply for some kind of renewal.
Okay, there’s your example. Let’s say there are not a lot of super great projects that quarter (or, heck, there are other great projects, but this one is still very popular and people trust Sylvia) and Sylvia gets fully funded. What really does the library end up with?
Instead of a mediocre CD collection (like nearly every public library I have ever been to), we get, well, a little bit more mediocre CD collection, and one, ferociously beautiful, destination Jazz collection. The kind that inspires people to explore Jazz by its own radiating conviction. We get a happy employee contributing their masterful knowledge and deep energy, and we get personality and depth. And oh yes, we wake up! I just went to three Minneapolis libraries. They were varying degrees of okay to a little bit lousy but not totally terrible. But they were mostly so absolutely asleep! The staff was asleep! The collection was asleep! The libraries were asleep. Just, wake up! Libraries can be beautiful. They can be adventures! They can be quiet and studious and calm and keenly awake. Yes, yes, they can be partly responsive to simple popularity, they should be, responsive to their statistical measures and the pull, and even the wonders of Big Media, but they can also be personally curated. Museums of art. Places of personal conviction and insider knowledge, of mercurial and fierce fandom!, where items are part of the collection because someone in the system unreservedly believes in it. Places where the forgotten that should not be forgotten is held on to, and places where the luminous depths of our culture can emerge out of the flotsam and resolve itself into the amazed and enlightened hands of its constituents. We need only be awake, and free, and care.
I can think of 20 more examples beyond Sylvia’s Jazz without effort. And though tempted to run on endlessly with my visions I believe, reluctantly, especially reluctantly if I get to be King, in Democracy. So I think you should think of some of your own simple or mad ideas. I think you could, if you let yourself. Leave them here with me. When I am King we’ll see about getting them funded. I think your project will win the votes necessary to get you going on your mad or simple dream, and our library will be magic.
So it is decreed, this day, etc. etc.
The Third Decree
The problem that I find myself repeatedly slamming into around my cities various public library collections is twofold. One, I find a distinct lack of guiding passion. Loved items surely circulate thickly in the collection, but they remain unemphasized, unprotected, and undifferentiated. Two, librarians are fine when it comes to buying “New” items because every device of popularity and capitalism is geared to it. Stocking the classics is handled almost as well, especially if they are old enough and classic enough. But there is a middle ground here that I consider the soul of a library collection. It consists of half classics, lost classics, and the truly great books that 25 years or 40 years or 100 years on have been buried under the constant shower of new books. Ever so steadily, from age, wear, abandonment, and the ceaseless occlusion of new things, these simply erode out of our library systems and our cultural consciousness.
The King is here to save the soul of the library, and here is the decree to do it.
Every person who works for the library gets to choose five items of any currently circulating type, and a minimum of three copies of each of these will be kept and maintained in the collection for all time. These items will constitute a special collection all housed together, a library within the library.
There is loads of fine print and details that go with this.
1. Items are vested only among employees who have worked more than five years. If someone leaves before five years their choices are not protected and can be weeded or allowed to fade away.
2. Staff is not required to fill their quota of choices, but choices are non transferable.
3. Staff are entitled to remove their choice at any time, but not to replace it.
4. After the fifth year of employment staff is allowed one new pick at each new full year of employment.
5. All choices must be accompanied by an explanation of why the item was chosen. This will be prominently featured along with the staff member’s name and the origin date of the choice.
6. Staff are urged to consider things that aren’t already very safe on the regular shelves, but if they want to spend a choice on Pride and Prejudice that’s up to them.
7. Staff has to formally attest to loving each item they have chosen. This will be done by signing their name to a front piece in the book that says “I affirm that I have chosen and love this book (or cd or whatever).
So it is decreed, this day, etc. etc.
The Fourth Decree
Libraries within libraries within libraries. Our public libraries are already very much set up this way. We have a Children’s Library and a Teen Library, and those are just the ones in their own discrete, specific rooms. We also have, for example, a wing of Non-Fiction and one of Fiction. And then within Fiction we have regular Fiction and Genre Fiction. And let’s not stop there. In Genre Fiction we have Mysteries, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Romance, and the rest (the Professor and Mary Ann in this case being Westerns and Large Type. Large Type isn’t much of a genre I know, but there it is). Being an extremely omnivorous reader in addition to working here I visit all these libraries within the library, but a person could easily visit our library seven days a week (and they do!) yet never set foot in Kids, or Westerns, or whatever. It’s a lot of libraries. Is it too many libraries? Eh, I think no. I think let’s just throw open the gates.
But now that the gates are thrown open let’s think about what to add. What public libraries don’t already have Kids and Mysteries and Non Fiction? We’ve taken care of that basic, automatic stuff. Now is the time to spread our wings. Libraries are for flying! (Well, at least once in awhile, maybe like the Spruce Goose.) My third decree got us going on one of these extra libraries, the staff curated one, where vulnerable books are protected and the collection is driven by personal staff love. Now, by Kingly decree, I open another library within a library. The Local Library.
The Local Library will be a special collection made of books and media created or produced by people of the State within which the library lies. Strong priority and preference will be given based on how close to the library the author/creator lives and/or works. No preference whatsoever, though, is to be given to professionally produced, conventionally published material over entirely unreleased and homemade material so long as the homemade material meets minimum construction and reuseability standards. I’ll move to the copious fine print and details for the rest.
1. All submissions are chosen by a jury based on their subjective opinions of quality combined with the localness of the submission.
2. The jury is to be made up of six people meeting monthly. Staff and local community members are both eligible to serve on the committee. Members are chosen by lot from those volunteers and serve for one year. Jury members must recuse themselves from judging items produced by people they know.
3. Submissions are open to anyone in the state and must come in a set of five that are reasonable facsimiles of each other. They must meet minimum standards of size and durability for circulation. Selected materials will be purchased by the library in their sets of five at a price standardized by type (book, DVD, CD, etc.).
4. Each chosen item will be assigned a supporting juror who will be responsible for writing an erring on the side of honesty frontispiece note explaining why the item was chosen and just how local it is.
So it decreed, this day etc. etc.