Librarians: at "Bargaining" in the grief cycle

In response to Restore the Noble Purpose of Libraries, by William H. Wisner:

I'm sorry to tell you, Mr. Wisner, but the Noble Library is dead.

It died when my local library purchased a vinyl copy of the album KC and the Sunshine Band back in 1976. Yes, I agree "Boogie Shoes" is an awesome song, but I have to place the death of the traditional, noble, enlightened library at that ignoble event. Up to then, the library never bought any popular music: no Led Zepellin or Rolling Stones or The Who or David Bowie. There were only albums of Prokofiev, Mozart or the Boston Pops.

And librarians have been dealing with the loss for the last thirty years.

The Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. And librarians are smack in the middle of this process.

Some say the Denial stage is still ongoing, but I'm pretty sure it ended around the time your library made you learn about the "23 Things" and "Library 2.0." If creating ten different online accounts and solving the accompanying CAPTCHAs didn't shake you from that initial defensive response, then you're so deluded you probably think The Beatles will still get back together one day (all four of them).

The Anger period lasted all that time you were supposed to build that wiki and tag those images and write in that blog, but didn't, and went back to reading Booklist. Not long at all.

So librarians are currently in the state of Bargaining.

"Please come in and take these DVDs, yeah, check out 50 at a time, more than anyone could ever watch, and if you don't bring them back, we'll charge you a nickel..."

"Have a nap on that furniture. We'll wake you when it's time to go home."

"Leave your children here while you go off to the movies."

"We have cookies."

I sense that Depression isn't far off. As soon as we all realize that the cookies aren't working.

Already some librarians have successfully passed all the way to Acceptance, giving up on calling their workplaces "libraries" and renaming them "community centers." If the Noble Library is dead, embrace that change, they believe. Life begins anew. After all, librarians work for the people, and if the people don't want to better themselves through intellectual pursuits, who are we to keep suggesting they try?

So for now on, when we discuss "the future of libraries," I think the only answer is reincarnation. Accept death, mourn the loss and move on. Trust that the library had a noble and purposeful existence.

And if you're like me, pray that your library is reborn as a strip club.


I think that what we are seeing is a division along class lines in America.
There are those who see the value of libraries as educational resources, research institutions and cultural repositories. These are the producers: the scientists, the technicians, the leaders, the researchers in all fields, and in short, the pioneers. Several years ago, I read an article where these people were usually less than 19% of the population. No scientist and no medical practioner can keep up with the literature- they must depend upon libraries to hold and maintain data for them.

Then there are the educated lower classes. They see libraries as quick places for facts, which can be found easier on the Internet. They see libraries as entertainment resources, with free DVDs to compete with Netflix and multiple copies of bestsellers. Many of these library users don't really see themselves advancing past high school or their college degrees- what they learned in school should be sufficient for life.

Then there are those who don't see the use of libraries at all. They don't use them, they don't think about them, and they don't want them. Vaguely they see libraries as places where they can dump their kids who have a report due the next day, but that's about it. They insist that taxes be reduced by cutting children's librarians from the schools. The quickness of doing something distastful, such as searching for infomration, is more important than the validity of what they learn. They are uncomfortable in asking other people for help, especially in intellectual matters, and discourage others in their group from breaking the norms. Regretfully, this class is also often the most vocal. They don't see the library as valuable, and they can't comprehend why anyone else would value it.

Even more regretfully, the educated classes who understand continuous education and constant learning, become more and more remote from the other classes, and use their specialized libraries except for their children.

This division is not new. It has been around as long as America has been around. However,. more and more people are getting high school diplomas, and further college education. However, these educational institutions are failing in preparing their students for the changes and need to keep abreast of the changes in their life and careers. The end result is that the libraries and other educational institutions (art, music, literature) are getting the short end of the tax stick, while sports and other visible and more comfortable activities are given preference.

R. Lee Hadden (These are my own opinions!)

Ms. Hadden, the classist assumptions in your post are absolutely shocking. For shame. I hardly know where to start rebutting your assertions about class, intellectual capacity/interest, and library use, because your assumptions are so thoroughly in need of debunking that my reply could fill a book. Let me assure you, however, your assumptions are hardly the minority opinion--that should give you comfort. Having worked at a library which served patrons in a lower income bracket, I have seen those assumptions at work in others and I have seen how they negatively impacted library services and collection development. Classist assumptions like these are so deeply and fiercely held that no matter how much evidence the patrons themselves present to the contrary--no matter how intelligent, how intellectually-curious, how varied in their interests, or how vocal in their demand for challenging, diverse materials--librarians and administrators with classist assumptions will blindly assume that poor patrons don't want intellectually-challenging materials and collect accordingly, cheating patrons of the same opportunities that wealthy patrons might receive from other locations.

Effinglibrarian, you too are classist, or perhaps simply elitist, in declaring the addition of popular music to library collections to be somehow less "noble" than our collection of Western art music. In an attempt to seem witty, you have stooped to inaccuracy and flip remarks, which only muddies the waters further.

To be fair, in my experience, you and Hadden (who I'm not completely convinced is female) are both a right. I interned in a military town with a highly transient population. Most of the town does not have more then tech school training, and for what they do, they don't necessarily need it. There's also a lot of time to read on a boat at sea. There was always this dichotomy - a frazzled mom just wanting a DVD to babysit her kid, a homeless person needing a place to spend an afternoon (and those guys conversation-wise are all over the map), a clueless yuppie with a solid education that "didn't know the library did that," a kid on the computer who's family can't afford even a used one, and a Master Chief petty officer who spends his retirement learning more about Asian calligraphy then some of the people at the UW paid to know this stuff...

...And not a one of them with the money and/or desire to give the place more funds; with each reason being as unique as the patron. Gotta love it.

(Nope, that's not 100% of the patrons either, but it's enough to keep the place in a perpetual state of interesting.)

I could go several places with this, like the fact we used to use public schools and libraries to help "civilize" and homogenize the rest of America to the values of the white, Protestant, upper-middle class. I could mention that Dewey basically hired women for the profession so he could stock these civil service job on the cheap and in a way that wouldn't threaten the dominance of the white male educated class while allowing a "safe" place for smart women. I could even go into the fact I was one of those kids dropped off at the library by a functionally illiterate parent who can best be described as a patron from hell, the fact I learned to search computer databases because I wanted more dance music, and that I've done things for children's storytime that makes me think being on the cast of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" probably has more dignity.

Here's what I will say: Who's grieving? Pole Dancing is in 792.

"help 'civilize' and homogenize the rest of America to the values of the white, Protestant, upper-middle class."

yes, we used public schools to civilize those dirty Irish, Italians, Poles and Greeks.

Catholics and Eastern Europeans were not considered equal to Protestant Western European immigrants for much of American history. There were anti-Irish political parties, riots at St. Patrick's Day parades, and Prohibition in America was supported strongly by anti-immigrant groups and there was a time in the early 20th century when the KKK was one of the largest social clubs in America. I could get into more of of but it's a broad topic and I'm on the run this morning.

And yes, the public schools and the public libraries were born out of much of the same laws, grants, and charitable impulses even in cases where that "help" would be considered disgusting by today's standards and I say that as a fan of both.

Seriously, go look it up.

Subscribe to Comments for "Librarians: at "Bargaining" in the grief cycle"