Our Bill Croke’s melancholy observations on the contemporary public library are spot on.The plague he describes and laments is a national one, not restricted to the flesh pots of Idaho where Bill lives.
My local in Tampa, at which I’m a frequent flyer, now serves more as a recreation center, after school hangout, baby-sitting service, and de-lousing station/nap room for the homeless than it serves the library’s traditional role of lending books to readers. You can find more people asleep at my library branch than in my long-ago high school study hall. Based on my experience of the clamor coming from the rug-rat section there, I like America’s chances in the next Olympic free-style squealing competition. Bored and exhausted mothers there only rouse themselves to head off their children’s behavior when it rises to the level of a third-degree felony.
The dreary cultural evolutions that have destroyed these former oases of quiet are too well known to require repetition here. But let’s add another villain to the mix. Librarians and library bureaucrats, faced with the unattractive prospect of having to find real jobs as book-reading has become less and less central of our national life, have sprung into entrepreneurial mode. They’ve added one untraditional function after another to their “libraries,” thereby assuring lots of traffic, and their jobs. I doubt very much that lessons in needle-point were what Ben Franklin had in mind when he established the first public library in Philadelphia these many years ago.
No surprise here. Hardly any government agency has ever shut down or even cut back as the need for it has diminished, or even disappeared. Why should public libraries be different?