Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Sky's Not the Limit Anymore

During most of high school (and some of college), I worked as a "page" at our local library. That's library-ese for the very underpaid person at the circulation desk checking out your books and shelving them when you bring them back. I loved mostly every minute of that job, but as with every profession, there were some pet peeves.

At that job, it drove me nuts when some mom would dump a sky-high pile of children's books on the Plexiglassed desktop and proceed to wait not very patiently with cherubs in tow for yours truly to open the back cover of each book, take out the yellow index card pocketed on the last page, stamp it through the date machine, deposit it into a slot, and insert a blue card into the void previously filled pocket. Repeat 49 times.

Well, 35 years later, I've become that same patron that once I abhored. Betty and I typically visit the library once a week (I do take Boo, but not as often as I really should) and we are the library patrons that you don't want to get stuck behind. We're the ones with not one but two or three recyclable tote bags from Giant and Target, loading each up with piles of books about princesses, fairies, tigers, Junie B. Jones, American Girls, and anything else that strikes Betty's fancy - and, to be fair, mine. We're the ones who routinely push the 99-items allowed out at a time limit.

So tonight I was more than dismayed to read in the newspaper that our local county-wide library system has enacted a new policy, effective this July. When applying for a library card, one will essentially be on probation for the first six months and considered as a "new borrower." This I have no problem with. But during this time, you're only allowed 12 items out at a time.

This would have been a problem in our house. A big one. With four people in our family, that's three items per person. Which might be sufficient for some, but not us. I'm very grateful and appreciative that my kids enjoy reading. As such, my bookworm kids can breeze through six children's books faster than you can say ... anything, really. And what if a parent might like to borrow a book or two? Or perhaps a DVD?

When you're into books as a kid, there's something insatiable about bringing home an overstuffed, heavier-than-you are bag of library books. It makes you want to read them all, right now. You can't wait to see what adventures you'll be taken on next. But with your bag or two of books, you're covered until your next trip to the library.

Now imagine if you're a child who loves to read and who just visited the library for the first time. Maybe your family doesn't have much money - and what money your family has isn't being spent on books, but food and housing and heat. Your parent has selected two books, as well as a DVD. You have a younger brother at home, so your parent picked out four picture books for him. That leaves five picture books for you. You're not sure if you'll get a chance to come back next week because your mom is working overtime on Saturday and thanks to budgetary cutbacks, the library is closed on Sundays now.

Get the picture? The rationale, according to the newspaper article I read, is that there's an epidemic with new borrowers taking items out and not returning them - hence, items become lost and need to be replaced with funds the library doesn't have. The solution, then, is to impose the 12-item limit on new borrowers for six months.

I'm no expert, but this doesn't strike me as the solution. It's problematic to society in general because in my opinion, such a policy could have the opposite of its intended affect. It has the potential to discourage reading, particularly with children. Once you've dusted off your five picture books, maybe you're re-reading them and re-reading them. But most likely you're not. In the absence of books, you're playing video games or watching banal reality TV.

Maybe I'm being melodramatic. Maybe there is a reason for what appears to be, in my mind, a penny-wise and pound-foolish measure. In a time of recession, libraries should not continue to be the scapegoat. Instead, they need to be viewed as havens in the storm, a place to seek refuge in a pile of sky-high books when the sky is falling.


DemMom said...

I agree, that policy just doesn't make sense to me.

But the image of you all up there with 99 items cracks me up. Please tell me your library does not use the index card in the pocket anymore though.

We have these "self checkout" machines here (in addition to humans behind the desk). You can actually put several books on the platform at once, and the computer reads all their labels and spits out a receipt telling you when you checked them out and when each one is due. Theoretically, this means you should be able to check out even 99 items quickly. Bug, of course, insists on pulling over a stool and doing it herself. And she wants to do every book and movie... one at a time! At this point, Bean is usually running in circles yelling (happily), rolling on the floor, or running behind the circulation desk.
I was lucky enough to have 30 minutes to go to the library BY MYSELF yesterday! Heaven!

Literate Housewife said...

We have something in common! I worked as a page twice - once in high school and once during grad school. I found the work somewhat tedious, but there is also something calming about putting books in order and then back on their shelves.

If I were you and in the 12 only situation, every darn member of my family would be getting a library card. :)

Betty and Boo's Mommy said...

DemMom ~ We're not as advanced to have self-checkout yet (and I don't see that happening anytime soon with the cutbacks our library system is facing), but the index card in the pocket is gone. It's all computerized. This was such a big discussion at my hometown's library when I was a board member, and as with such weighty issues, became a non-issue once the machines were installed. Glad you got to go to the library by yourself ... that is always a treat for me, too.

Literate Housewife ~ nice to meet another page! I know exactly what you mean about shelving being tedious but calming. :)