Monday, October 1, 2007

Give the people what they want vs. not underestimating the public

It has been a long debate. As a public library, should we simply "give the people what they want" by purchasing multiple copies of popular materials, or should we purchase some popular materials and yet maintain quality research collections? Those who fall into the "give the people what they want" camp often accuse their counterparts of elitism. They don't feel that quality judgments should be made, which I guess means that librarians are just over-trained fetch artists.

I would suggest that it is actually the "give the people what they want"ers who are the elitists. Here's my reasoning. Isn't it snobbish to assume that public library users have no need for a research collection? Are research collections only to be maintained in academic libraries? Should we really be proud of having ten copies of the DVD Jackass 2 even when we have to weed books on how to start your own small business? Sure Jackass 2 circulates well, but what are we providing for our patrons that isn't already being provided by Blockbuster, Netflix, or Hollywood Video?

Part of the issue is that the public library has become just another expression of corporate America. It's a numbers game now. Door counts and circulation statistics are the name of the game. If we can't show them increasing every year then we might be cut off from some kind of special funding that we would like to request. We are all experiencing a fear of becoming irrelevant, but I ask you, how could we become more irrelevant than if we stop providing access to quality information for the members of the public who are least likely to go out and buy that material?

For more on this issue see this post at the Effing Librarian, and an interesting debate (including the comments) at Blyberg's blog.

No comments: