Thursday, April 5, 2012

Libraries Used to be About Books.

I recently walked into my township’s new library for the first time. And as a conservative, I naturally looked around to see how my local taxes were being spent. Now let me say up front, I’ve always been in love with public libraries. They’ve exposed me to countless wonderful things that I’ll always treasure. But in recent years, I’ve grown increasingly concerned with certain library trends.

From my childhood, I’ve seen the library as a place of refuge. A place where I could access much of the best of the world, literally coming from down through the ages. Of course, I realized most people didn’t highly value such a repository. But that was fine. I figured it was open to everyone, though few utilized it – much like the public parks, tennis courts and softball fields.

But liberal proclivities within government are changing all that. Some of these changes are annoying, but rather minor, all in all. For instance, if you Google-searched the word “diversity” coupled with the name of your local library system, you’re likely to find repeated instances of your library’s commitment to advancing the diversity tenet of the liberal religion. And of course, this is particularly silly, since what else is so naturally diverse as a library?

Also, I could mention my dismay over how so many urban libraries have accommodated themselves to the “homeless” street patrons they have wandering in and out of them, looking for restrooms and a place to nap. But then, it’d probably be politically incorrect to wax nostalgic about the old days, when a cop by the entrance would advise every vagrant to “move along, bud.”

No, my concern here is with a more corrupting influence on libraries. It probably starts with library administrators who, in search of greater funding, preoccupy themselves with how many people are coming in the front door (not counting the homeless, or the latch-key kids whose parents are using the place for an after-school hangout center). But wherever it starts, it seemingly always ends in the same place: efforts to turn libraries into free versions of Blockbuster Video.

In entering my new library, the first thing I came across was a prominent display stand – not for new books – but for new movie DVD’s. When I stopped at that point and looked about, I could see lots of book shelving, all stocked up with books, in every direction. But it was all at a distance, along the perimeter of the building. What was close at hand, in the middle of the library (not mentioning all the computers providing free Internet access), were shelves and shelves of movie DVD’s. The implication was obvious. The library was spending tax dollars to give knuckleheads free access to American Pie, The Hangover and their sequels.

Do you find this insufficiently disturbing? Then go to a public library and watch what parents are checking out for the kids they’re accompanying. It’s far more likely to be a movie like Anchorman or The Polar Express than any book like Wind in the Willows or A Wrinkle in Time. Your tax dollars are being used to provide cheap laughs while fostering illiteracy, dull imaginations and short attention spans.

Oh yeah, I know, I’m a bit of a curmudgeon and out of touch. Compared to books, movies are simply another form of entertainment, right? For that matter, they’re more likely to be relevant and topical with today’s kids – the ones we’re supposedly doing everything for. So it’s only sensible to give them, and everyone else what they want. But I don’t buy it.

Look, why don’t libraries provide what’s euphemistically known as “adult literature?” Why aren’t there racks of hard-core pornography? Why? Because it’s not right for our civic institutions to pander to peoples’ baser desires.

Am I being too high-brow? Okay… but if we’re going to loan out movies, why don’t we hand out free popcorn? Don’t people want that too? How about free DVD players, flat screen televisions and surround-sound? You know, everyone doesn’t have the essentials at home.

No, the loaning out of movies by libraries is wrong at all kinds of levels. We’re subsidizing the wrong cultural impulses while encouraging people to think government should naturally provide “free” entertainment. Oh by the way, why should your tax dollars be undermining private businesses that do rent out movies, such as Blockbuster (who I hear isn’t too healthy)?

Sure, the same charge has historically been made about libraries undermining bookstores. But at least an argument can be made that from an educational viewpoint, our society benefits from the loaning out of books. It’s an investment, and a low cost one at that. Intellects are actually developed by books. Besides, movies are on television, at no-charge, everyday, non-stop. It’s just that the kiddies have to sit through the commercials from the sponsors, who are paying to broadcast all those “free” movies.

Anyone who will pledge to clean the movies out of the libraries likely gets my support for the local library board. Once that’s accomplished, then maybe we can start talking about all the characters hanging around the free computers.

Updated for typos and clarity.


  1. dribble down from a federal government with expasive welfare programs economically encouraging everything from single parenthood to marginality among future Americans. free cell phones (250 minutes) with any welfare entitlement! the bigger question is will you critique the corporate interests benefiting/encouraging this stuff? libraries don't provide a public good anymore (netflix is affordable even on welfare), so axe them. they're indefensible.

  2. Carl talks too much.

  3. You can get a quick look at how removed from books the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Library has become by going to their website and search the site (not the catalog) for "Wii". The game systems are available in many libraries complete with tournaments and opportunities for winning a game machine.

  4. I see the problem as stemming from how public libraries are funded. Most public libraries receive a percentage from the state government. There is a set amount of the general fund that gets divvied up among all the public libraries in Ohio. Money is then allocated to each library according to the amount of items being borrowed in each library. The trend then is to provide access to materials that would be borrowed at a higher rate so that the library receives more funding. Right now that trend includes videos, since those are statistically the highest circulating items. Unless a new model of funding libraries is implemented in state government, we will continue to see our local libraries look more and more like Blockbuster.

    Interesting side note. Because public libraries take the money from the state they are required to give library cards to any Ohio resident, no matter where they live in the state.

  5. The Columbus Metropolitan Friends of the Library store's bestselling item is a pair of chinese made earphones to be used when listening to the internet on the library computers. The restroom near the parking garage is a popular homeless bathroom.

  6. who cares about the earphones someone buys? what sites are visited? why would consumer demand determine whether the public foots the bill? hey, i'll pay taxes for the homeless to use a public computer to find housing or a job. but why do i doubt that's happening. have excellent public policy locally so we can tell the fat and stinky federal government to go eat $4 shrimp on someone else's dime...


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