Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Economic downturn could be uplifting for libraries

I have been sidetracked this morning, reading the headlines about the economy. I started the track by wondering what retail chains were going bankrupt, then mosied over to read about the "how to pay for college" crunch, and then ended up on biofuel and a global food shortage.


When I think about Maslow's hierarchy, food and shelter have to come before such things as problem-solving, community or eventually self-actualization...many of the things the Library (with a capital L) excels at. At least, the Library sets up the environment to make self-actualization more likely.

But people can't get excited about ideas or the life of the mind if they are hungry.

So it may seem like we as a society are heading into a time where we must hunker down and not do anything (translation: spend money). And of course I know all too well the whole "the library is free" mentality is a double-edged sword--it's free but it must be funded adequately.

But I was thinking that the economic downturn could be just the thing for libraries to use as a springboard to make their case to the American public:
1. We are a vital city service--as important as electricity or clean water.
2. Use us in good times and in bad.
3. We welcome ALL the people of the community here for technology access.
4. Hope lives here, at the library. Hope for improvement.

When all the headlines you see are about closing doors and belt-tightening, we can stand out from all the bad news: our doors are open, we are the place to come for education, entertainment, information...basically we are the place to come when you want to hope for a better life.

Is this realistic or am I just searching for a way out of all the bad news headlines?
Happy National Library Week.


librarimin said...

Dear Alice, I ageee with everything as an IDEAL, but there is still the customer service focus that just doesn't seem to be on the agenda for a lot of libraries. People already batterd by socio-economic hardship are less than likely to go put their self-esteem any further on the line in organisations that make them feel stupid and/or incidental. An example: I had to use my (Austalian) library 'public access' computers last week as we had blackouts at home. I was dropped off, realised I'd left my wallet in the car, went to explain my situation at the desk, i.e - I will gladly pay in an hour for the computer service I need right now... I was dismissed, not even allowed to finish my explanation as the senior staff member walked away from me. I am in my 3rd year of Library & Info' Management, and was trying to submit an assignment. I can't adequately express the anger, frustration and powerlessness I felt. All for the lack of $2.

Anonymous said...

Reading your post makes me think that this is just one way of looking at the brighter side of the story with all the depressing headlines that greet us in the morning.

Alice said...

Oh librarimin, I am so sorry to hear about your frustrating experience!! This would be a case study in how NOT to treat your customers/patrons/users (pick your term). All of us have had those times when, for one reason or another, we find ourselves at a loss to explain why circumstances are unusual (But officer, my insurance papers are ALWAYS here in the glovebox, I am as surprised as you are...) and the person in power has a choice to either believe you or to dismiss you. I am sorry your situation turned out for the latter. This is where you hope for grace, for compassion, for a realization of the common human condition--sometimes we simply find ourselves without $2, but we still need the online access! When the respect for rules has us blinded to respect for each other as people in life together...it's time for a vacation?

(And I say this knowing full well that I don't deal with citizens who are homeless, want to use the computers inappropriately all day. I know these types of situations can make ANYONE jaded and react uncharacteristically harsh.)

Unknown said...

Mmm, irony. That Maslow chart kind of reminds me of something....