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The Library is America's last truly socialized institution and you're about to lose it

by Democrats Ramshield
Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 10:07:21 AM EST

(Written by an American expat living in the European Union)

Did you know that the library is America's last truly socialized institution and that everyday you come a bit closer to losing it! As a male who is a business librarian, (that is to say someone who holds graduate degrees in library science and an MBA degree in marketing), I understand very well that fee for service in America's library systems are creating a class of information have-nots. For some of you this means that your children aren't going to be able to read as well. It also means that as voters in a democracy, you will no longer be as well informed without full library services. As the series, the American dream vs the European dream which I was able to generously publish with the support of the Daily Kos community, we have seen that we cannot depend on the plutocrat owned radio and television media. Sometimes we have to go to print sources, even international print sources of the variety and scope that you can't possibly afford as an individual to subscribe to them all. Additionally libraries make online databases available to their patrons that allow you with the touch of a button to read international media sources from around the globe. You're in the process of losing this all and a lot more.

Now let's ask why should you be interested in defending America's last truly socialized institution? Well, let's get down to it shall we? So you don't think the library is a completely socialized institution. Well, let's talk about the theory of a library for just one minute, which is everyone who walks in the door and holds a library card has access completely to the same services. It doesn't matter if they're the mayor or a homeless person. Everyone in the library is supposed to be treated the same. It is the one place in America where equality doesn't just get lip service. The American Library Association has produced a wonderful statement called the Freedom to Read Statement wherein it is believed that your freedom to read comes directly from the first amendment of the constitution of the United States. You're about to lose that and that's pretty darn important.


You can think of the library as a repository of everyone who has ever thought and everyone who has ever written! That's a lot to lose access to.

Now we know that by in large, we are not really in tight budget times at all but rather we know that a lot states have ran up artificial deficits just like in Wisconsin wherein they give tax breaks to wealthy individuals and corporations and then try to balance the budget on the backs of working class Americans and their unions. So it is that library systems all over America are running out of money and this is in danger of tearing the guts out of the last truly socialized institution in America, where everyone is supposed to be equal and it is in danger of creating a division in the population of the information haves and have-nots.  

L.A. Weekly - L.A.'s Library Measure L
There's lots of hidden City Hall fat to fuel the 73 shuttered libraries
By Patrick Range McDonald and Mars Melnicoff Thursday, Feb 24 2011

Last summer, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council achieved a grim milestone. With little discussion, the mayor and 10 of the 15 council members approved unprecedented, punishing library cuts that made L.A. the only significant U.S. municipality, aside from the dying city of Detroit, to shutter its entire public library system two days a week. At the Cypress Park Branch Library in northeast L.A., children once streamed in on Mondays to work on computers many families can't afford at home, while other students read and avoided the violent Avenues gang after school. Now, with Sundays and Mondays dark and his staff cut far back, librarian Patrick Xavier says, "It's a struggle."

Source: http://www.laweekly.com/2011-02-24/news/l-a-s-library-measure-l/

Literacy among adults and children in the information age is the lynch pin to education, retraining and full employment. No institution in America does more to support literacy than your friendly neighborhood library. I'm not just talking about story hour and reading programs for children but serious efforts in supporting young adults and working adults literacy and continued education efforts. Let's understand that there is a strong correlation between literacy rates and crime. That is say that most people in America and there are over 2 million of them who are in jails and prisons traditionally suffer from low literacy rates. Why is it that America can find plenty of money for prisons but has problems in finding money for libraries? All of this is to say nothing of the staggering lost of human potential of the American prison population. In fact we have about as many people in prison as we do have in the military. Oh yes and did you know that most American military manuals are written at the 9th grade reading level? Did you also know that there are millions of Americans today who cannot read this diary because they are functionally illiterate? Now we start to understand what it is that America is losing, when it is losing the last truly socialized institution in America.

Fee for service
There is a trend in American librarianship that refers to fee for service. That is to say that services are made available only to those library patrons that can pay for them. This trend has been growing in recent years and now it's threatening to become an American national epidemic. Some people will always argue that there always will be some basic library services available without fees, but the issue is what is the cost to American society of a less well read public? What is the cost to American society of not fully supporting our children's literacy and then there's the issue of quality of life and the joy of reading which can also be diminished by fee for service advocacy.
Yet another alarming development is the privatization of libraries in the creation of the information have-nots. Here's a link to the American Libraries Association information page on that issue.
Link: http://wikis.ala.org/professionaltips/index.php?title=Library_Privatization_and_Outsourcing_Current_ News_Reports

Information retrieval
Some people believe wrongly that they can find everything they need on the internet and therefore don't want to support libraries anymore. The simple fact is this is not true because there is too much irrelevant information on the internet that people retrieve. In library jargon, we say its high volume retrieval with low pertinence. In fact what we want is low volume with high pertinence. That is to say, you want a small manageable amount of information that is relevant to your information needs and that's why you need professional library collection development working for you, both behind the scenes and at the reference desk. The more information that becomes available in the bibliographic universe, the more we need the professional information management of librarians to help us navigate the information maze. We don't want to create a system where only the affluent on a fee for service basis can afford to have the librarian as an information professional assisting their information retrieval needs through database searches, reader guidance, children and adult literacy issues. The library must continue to be the social leveling institution that it has always been where everyone has equal access to have their information needs met. Libraries collections must continue to mirror through their collection development policies the full populations of the communities (to include non-English speakers) that they serve rather than have library collections and services developed around the needs of a few affluent library patrons population driven by their ability to pay in a fee for service structure.

This diary encourages you to support your local library by writing a letter to the editor today and telling them why it is that you support libraries, that you support literacy and that you support intellectual freedom for both authors and readers. Also please consider joining your friends of the libraries group. We need everyone's help to defend the last fully socialized institution in America which is your local library.

Thank you for your support of American libraries.

(Finally it should be noted that the famous philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who in
the minds of many was a noted socialist set up libraries all over America.)

-----------------------------

PS: I'd like to take this opportunity to invite anyone interested in joining the Progressive Friends of the Library group, newly formed at the Daily kos. Please send me email at democratsramshield@yahoo.com or visit our page below. Thank you.

http://www.dailykos.com/user/friendsofthelibrary

(Cross posted by author from the Daily Kos.)

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sig...You just ran into a hardcore progressive who's just another working stiff with an MBA degree & therefore a vociferous labor union supporter [smile]
by Democrats Ramshield on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 10:08:05 AM EST
btw, the tip jar isn't common on this site in the way it is at Orange. We use the "recommend diary" button up on the RH sie.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 01:15:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
welcome to ET DR!
i enjoy your diaries in dkos very much, pretty hard row to hoe, you do it well and unpolemically.

It's a fine line between homage, parody, and consumer opportunism. Jess Walter
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 02:58:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Welcome. I've enjoyed seeing your rather provocative series on dKos comparing Europe and the US. I always wonder how it goes down ? Are you responded to as someone who abandoned the US or as someone trying to get a better debate going ?

Anyway, we are at least in your time zone here, so I hope you comment on our other discussions as well

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 01:10:17 PM EST
To Helen
Thank you for the kind remarks. I except to permanently  remain in Europe. I just love being in Europe for many, many reasons. I continue to have an interest in American politics and working to help improve issues of social justice in America. To that end, I hope to cross post some of my diaries here. If you have time, I'd like to invite you and other readers to comment often. Thank you so much for the great post. I have to say it's nice to have such a warm welcome from friends at the European Tribune.

sig...You just ran into a hardcore progressive who's just another working stiff with an MBA degree & therefore a vociferous labor union supporter [smile]
by Democrats Ramshield on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 04:40:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not on dKos. When I first started looking at orange I noted the contributions from non-americans were generally received with a great big "keep your butt out of our conversations".

So I vent here and will comment on your diaries as they appear. But please join us in Salon and Open thread as those are the places where the widest discussions happen.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 05:00:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In Sweden, an interesting discussion has started about digital books and the future of libraries. The discussion was prompted by the rising costs for digital books. The digital books being DRM-protected and handled by an outside company, the libraries are being reduced to a payment institution, sometimes for books written by robots from text on wikipedia. The function of finding the relevant information is absent in both the library stage and the company stage.

This has raised the interesting question of what libraries should be in a post-book setting. Of course there should be no DRM and rented books, but beyond that. If libraries are local centers for knowledge - with free surf for all - where should the function of finding the relevant information be hosted? At each library possibly, but do we need that? (Considering that Sweden has at least one library in every town and every public school) A common organisation perhaps? How should the information then be presented? And apart from a place for computers, what should a local library be?

I think it is an interesting and important question, as those who merely react are at a disadvantage. A socialistic vision for libraries in the digital era is needed.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 03:11:13 PM EST
then a library should at least be a place where you can checkout a digital book reader. Not everyone who can read an analog, paper book can afford to own digital book reading hardware.
by Magnifico on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 03:16:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To A swedish kind

I'm not sure that I fully understood the questions that you posed but let me say this, you can receive information that you will be quite happy with and quite satisfied with but only because you don't know what you're not getting. In other words you have to be able to develop a personal relationship with a reference librarian for any kind of in depth research. The reference librarian has to be able to interview you in depth because otherwise they can't understand your reference query because the information that you think you're looking for may actually be the wrong information. There's no way to know that unless you conduct an in depth reference interview. The problems at the human computer interface are a lot more complicated than most people think and therefore there is no replacement for a good reference librarian. Not just at your public library but also in business libraries, medical libraries, law libraries, engineering libraries and other types of special libraries.

Let's take something very simple like a spoon. If you're going to enter a spoon into a database, what will you enter it under? Maybe you would enter it as an eating utensil. Ah but what if the spoon were made out of gold or silver? Maybe then if ornamented it would be more of a piece of art, but we don't know that until we get into a reference interview, so then maybe we have to look at art collections. Then another issue might be how old is it because it may also be an antique. Another question might be from what continent was it, because then it might be European art instead of Asian art. But what if it wasn't made out of metal, what if the spoon was made out of wood and perhaps it would be considered a wood carving if decorated. At different points in history spoons were used as a measuring device and measuring devices maybe cataloged differently. This is an issue of information management and this cannot be done by robots because robots aren't smart enough in artificial intelligence algorithms to be able to make what we call an aboutness determination in relational database building on the entity relationship model.

In other words, computers and robots don't have the innate human intelligence ability to be able to look at something and understand immediately what it is about. Therefore if you have somebody like a trained reference librarian they can fill that gap in technology at the human relational interface between you the user and the computer. Without the reference librarian in the mix, that gap cannot be filled so even if you walk away feeling satisfied with the information you have there's a good chance that you will feel satisfied with what you have only because you don't know what you're missing and in fact what you probably have missed is some of the most pertinent information that is the newest information from the most credible sources. In which case it becomes important to have a reference librarian at as many human computer interface transaction points as possible. In other words, a reference librarian in every town that has a library. Local government who don't fund this wind up creating poorer information access for their citizens and that means in the information age that your workers, your voters and your children will be less well informed and therefore at a information disadvantage in the information age which is very competitive.

sig...You just ran into a hardcore progressive who's just another working stiff with an MBA degree & therefore a vociferous labor union supporter [smile]

by Democrats Ramshield on Wed Mar 2nd, 2011 at 05:12:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My question was based upon my experiences of swedish public libraries where general questions to the librarians are rather rare (might be a cultural thing). The librarians expertise then mainly shows in the collection itself and the way the books are presented (special focus on particular authors or genres). This largely goes with the physical books.

Other kind of libraries has other situations, but the public library is what I am most interested in.

But your point about human intelligence is well received, and in particular with books mainly digital, search help might be an even more important function in the future.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Mar 3rd, 2011 at 03:29:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you or any of the other readers have any library questions, please feel free to email me anytime. Also sometimes I run a bit behind but I do answer all my emails. Here's my email address: democratsramshield@yahoo.com

I'm also interested in learning more about your Swedish library experiences. Also I've started two groups that you and the other readers might be interested in. One of them is Progressive Friends of the Library group and the other one is a Global Expats group which is full of international people from all over the world, ie Europe, Asia, North America, India and Africa.


sig...You just ran into a hardcore progressive who's just another working stiff with an MBA degree & therefore a vociferous labor union supporter [smile]

by Democrats Ramshield on Thu Mar 3rd, 2011 at 04:06:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the U.S., most public colleges have good libraries (not much recent popular fiction, though!) open to the public. And it's not too hard to get a university e-mail account, which gives you online access to the scientific journal articles.

However, getting people to any sort of a library poses problems. Here in Colorado Springs, the central library is right down the street from the large soup kitchen, and as a socialist institution the library is of course non-discriminatory in welcoming patrons of all socio-economic status. The result is that there are a whole bunch of smelly homeless guys sitting around in the reading rooms, using the bathrooms for their daily ablutions, and making the general public uncomfortable.

So we have public libraries and university libraries still in operation here in the-taxes-are-too-damn-high land, but illiteracy continues...

by asdf on Wed Mar 16th, 2011 at 04:45:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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