Library lock-out

To keep out rowdy middle school students, Maplewood, New Jersey will lock the library from 2:45 to 5 pm on week days, reports the New York Times. Librarians complain some students “fight, urinate on the bathroom floor, scrawl graffiti on the walls, talk back to librarians or refuse to leave when asked.” On average, they call police twice a day to deal with students.

Increasingly, librarians are asking: What part of “Shh!” don’t you understand?

About a year ago, the Wickliffe, Ohio, library banned children under 14 during after-school hours unless they were accompanied by adults. An Illinois library adopted a “three strikes, you’re out” rule, suspending library privileges for repeat offenders. And many libraries are adding security guards specifically for the after-school hours.

In Euclid, Ohio, the library pumps classical music into its lobby, bathrooms and front entry to calm patrons, including those from the nearby high school.

In Jefferson Parish, La., where middle-school students need a permission slip to use the public library after school, the American Civil Liberties Union is threatening to sue.

It’s hell-in-a-handbasket time. Are there no adults who can teach tweens to behave with respect for others? What are the consequences for kids who are kicked out — or escorted out by a police officer — for disrupting the library? Where are the parents?

Meanwhile, libraries are dumping classic books that haven’t been checked out in two years — the bell may toll in Fairfax County, Virginia for For Whom the Bell Tolls — to make room on the shelves for bestsellers. John J. Miller wonders why taxpayers should subsidize potboilers for the middle class.

Update: Ms. Cornelius, who links to a story that names the deshelved classics, says GAAAAH!

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Comments

  1. wayne martin says:

    With the emergence of Amazon.com, other on-line providers, and now Google/Books, the need to keep older books, or books that are low “circulators”, is no longer necessary. People can download thousands of older (out-of-copyright) books from Google, and soon Yahoo and Microsoft. Other sources for e-books, both free and for-fee, are also available. The costs for library floor space is large. New construction can cost as much as $1,000/sq. ft. in urban areas (construction and interest payments on bonds). With regional Wireless Networks beginning to become available, being able to gain access to older books is not possible sitting in a coffee shop (which might have WiFi) or in the park (once the regional Wireless systems are in place). Downloading books out of the air 7/24 is now possible, rather than having to travel to a library which may, or may not, be open when you’re interested in browsing, or getting a specific book. The article also doesn’t discuss the use of off-site storage areas, which academic libraries are using quite effectively. Public libraries need to move into the 20th Century and utilize modern retailing-oriented methods.

    Here in California, a system called Link has been created for public and academic libraries which provides a merged catalog of all the books in the aggregate libraries. People can peruse from any Internet Access devise, as well as order books on-line. It takes about 3-5 days for the books to be delivered to the library of the customer’s choice. At the current time, this service is free, unlike the cumbersome Inter-Library Loan program (ILL). (Actually OCLC now has a WEB-based program which allows libraries to offer on-line ordering of books through ILL also.)

    Google/Books has enlisted CAL Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard and the University of Michigan as partners in their effort to digitize as many of the worlds out-of-copyright books as they can. While these digitizing projects are still new, there is no reason for public libraries not to take advantage of the fact that patron’s can obtain the classis, and infrequently used reference materials, for free on-line, and make room for books/materials that are of more interest to customers.

  2. “John J. Miller wonders why taxpayers should subsidize potboilers for the middle class.”

    I wonder why taxpayers should subsidize turgid and intellectually incestuous character studies for the upper class. As noted elsewhere on this issue, shelf space is a limited commodity; how about allowing it to be used efficiently to provide a service people actually want? I can see some benefit to maintaining a broad selection of reference materials, even if the books are seldom checked out, but fiction?

    That a book is popular with professors of literature is no reason to assume anything about its general quality. If the book is that good, check it out yourself or buy a copy from one of those quaint establishments known to the underclasses as “book stores”.

    Or do what Andrew Carnegie did and open a free lending library that has the books you like. I’m sure people will flock to your door.

  3. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Palo alto is in the throes of an upgrade of its library system. It will no doubt wind up with bigger buildings.

  4. Richard Nieporent says:

    I wonder why taxpayers should subsidize turgid and intellectually incestuous character studies for the upper class. As noted elsewhere on this issue, shelf space is a limited commodity; how about allowing it to be used efficiently to provide a service people actually want?

    Won’t that put the X-rated booksellers out of business?

  5. They’re not throwing out classics. Every book named by Miller and in the original story in the Washington Post is available at at least several branches in the Fairfax County library. They’re just not currently stocked at the branches named. Anyone can go online and order the book and within a day pick it up at his or her local branch.

  6. Each of these comments presupposes that the public has (1) money enough to purchase a book, (2) access to an internet connection, and (3) enough interest and savvy to track down a book that we’re all assuming that they’ve heard of. Whatever happened to browsing the stacks and picking up something you haven’t heard of, something that isn’t John Gresham or Stephen King, just because you take it from the shelf, read a few lines, and like what you read?

    Downloading books 24/7 may be possible, but doing so for free isn’t usually possible despite Google’s efforts if the book was published after 1923, given the state of copyright law.

  7. wayne martin says:

    A poster suggests that comments promoting advances in virtual libraries, or on-line access to information, require: (1) money enough to purchase a book, (2) access to an internet connection, and (3) enough interest and savvy to track down a book that we’re all assuming that they’ve heard of.

    As to (1), most new books these days range in the $8-$24 range (hardback and paperback). When the per-transaction costs of running libraries is analyzed, these costs range easily range from $5-$12 per item. When capital costs are added in, then the per-transaction costs can jump (depending on the library) by 5-25 percent. For most recent books, it’s actually cheaper for an individual to purchase a used copy from Amazon than to expect the taxpayers to provide a “free” copy that ends up costing as much, or sometimes more, than an almost new copy from a used book source. It’s difficult to believe that there are many people in America who can not afford $8-$10 to purchase a book.

    As to (2): “access to an Internet connection” .. access to the Internet is far more ubiquitous than to a libraries. The GAO’s May 2006 report on Broadband speaks to this issue: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d06426.pdf. The CIA Worldbook claims that about 200M USA residents are Internet Users:

    https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/rankorder/2153rank.html

    With e-Rate taxes being exacted from all US telephone subscribers to subsidize rural and school libraries for public internet access, and now the emergence of Wireless Internet, it’s difficult to believe that most people don’t have access to the Internet, in one way or another.

    The Introduction of the Sony E-Reader (http://www.learningcenter.sony.us/assets/itpd/reader/) offers people access to a versatile, light weight, energy-efficient and very readable electronic device which will hold hundreds of books, with access to an on-line archive of books which can be purchased. This device is a little pricey at the moment (around $350). If the price were to drop to $99 (or thereabouts), the Sony e-Reader probably would find a ready audience. If the screen size were to be increased just a little, this audience might grow substantially. If this device were to have a wireless interface that would allow it to connect to the Internet, there would be a even larger audience.

    As to (3): “enough interest and savvy to track down a book that we’re all assuming that they’ve heard of “.. the “savvy” involves typing “books.google.com” into the browser, and then the name of the book you are looking for. Lots of books appear in the response, so there’s lot’s of opportunity to “browse” without having to go to a library that might well be closed. Browsing may well be the lowest common denominator for some people, but because of union labor and “all-the-stock-on-the-floor” inventory management schemes employed by most public libraries, these facilities are quickly being too expensive to operate.

    As to (4), books published after 1923 not being available from Google. The Washington Post artice was about “classics” being culled (or stored in off-site locations). How many “classics” were published after 1923? Remember, that Copyright specifies a number of years that the work is protected, not that all works after 1923 are protected. Each year, some number of books loose their copyright protection. Moreover, it’s difficult to believe that one of these days someone won’t come up with a payment scheme that will allow payment to copyright holders in such a way that they allow on-line access to their works. It’s just a matter of time.

  8. “Whatever happened to browsing the stacks and picking up something you haven’t heard of, something that isn’t John Gresham or Stephen King….”

    Why is it wrong to pick up Grisham or King or some other popular current author instead of Chekov or Hemingway? Shelf space is finite (absent millions of dollars of building funds). The question is not whether to fill those shelves with books, but which books to fill them with. I submit that filling them with books that people read is better than filling them with books that people don’t — even if the authors of those books are insufficiently popular in E. Lit. departments.

  9. Wayne Martin is right: all those options are possible–if you’re a well-educated, middle-class reader who has a discretionary income that allows book purchases (and Sony Reader purchases, until it becomes obsolete in a few years) at the prices he mentions. I guess my point would be that as a technology, printed books will last longer, even though they probably won’t be the preferred medium for reading in a few years.

    I didn’t mean that there was anything wrong with reading Grisham or King or the poetry of Paris Hilton, for that matter, if that’s what people want to read. It’s just that if the library follows a totally consumer-driven model, people might not have the opportunity to be exposed to the so-called classics. I’ll admit that I have an old-fashioned idea of a library as a kind of public trust; one analogy might be that the newspapers and television news would attract more readers and viewers if they jettisoned war news and just reported on celebrity scandals. They don’t do that, in part because a totally consumer-driven model isn’t in the public interest.

  10. Geoffrey Amiot says:

    You can’t kill ideas. Hitler already tryed that. You are right stay on point. Walnut for gun stocks and book shelves. Freedom of the pamphet will always be here. God bless.

  11. wayne martin says:

    A Washington Post article claims that customers can’t find various “classics” in some of the local libraries in Fairfax County, VA, such as: “Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings”, “The Education of Henry Adams”, or Emily Dickinson’s “Final Harvest”. The libraries have been using their library inventory software to keep track of “low circulators”, which they are removing from the shelves of some of their libraries.

    Well, these books can be obtained on-line at a couple of locations:

    The Writings Of Abraham Lincoln:
    http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC04731995&id=vq1LywH3-SkC&pg=PA1&lpg=PA1&dq=Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings&as_brr=1

    “The Education of Henry Adams”:
    http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC70394769&id=qF8WAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA1&lpg=PA1&dq=The Education of Henry Adams&as_brr=1#PPP12,M1

    Emily Dickinson’s “Final Harvest”:
    (Purchase prices start at $0.78)
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0316184152/ref=dp_olp_2/104-5018890-4807947

    The following list of books being culled seems to have emerged:

    Books on the Chopping Block in Fairfax
    The following books have been weeded from the shelves of various branches of the Fairfax County Public Library system or haven’t been checked out in 24 months and could be discarded. In parentheses are the branches where the books are endangered. The same title might be available at another branch.

    The Works of Aristotle, Aristotle (Centreville)
    Sexual Politics, Kate Millett (Centreville)
    The Great Philosophers, Karl Jaspers (Centreville)
    Carry Me Home, Diane McWhorter (Centreville)
    The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner (George Mason Regional)
    The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy (George Mason Regional)
    For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway (George Mason Regional)
    Desolation Angels, Jack Kerouac (George Mason Regional)
    Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak (George Mason Regional)
    Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust (George Mason Regional)
    Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well, Maya Angelou (Chantilly Regional)
    The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams (Chantilly Regional)
    Writings, Gertrude Stein (Chantilly Regional)
    Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (Chantilly Regional)
    Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe (Chantilly Regional)
    Great Issues in American History, Richard Hofstadter (Chantilly Regional)
    The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein (Chantilly Regional)
    One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Pohick Regional)
    Babylon Revisited: And other stories, F. Scott Fitzgerald (Reston Regional)
    To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (Reston Regional)
    The Aeneid, Virgil (Sherwood Regional)
    The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot (Fairfax City Regional)
    —-

    A quick review of the list indicates that about 20% of these books are out-of-copyright, and likely to be found on on-line sources now, or soon. The rest, it would seem, are not being checked out, so why shouldn’t they be moved to off-site-storage, or the library’s catalog be updated to provide links to the on-line sources?

    The Fairfax library should be complimented for their intelligent use of resources.

  12. Today’s Times reports they’re going to try hiring a couple of security guards rather than closing.

  13. wayne martin says:

    I was in San Francisco recently, and decided to wander through the downtown library, which cost $109.5 million when built in 1993-95 ($200 M when interest on bonds is added in) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_Public_Library).

    The building is impressive (as you might expect a $100M building to be). Wandering around the building, what impressed me the most was that there were no people using the facility (a Friday after noon during the Christmas season) other than homeless folks who seemed to be hunkered down at every Internet terminal. The bottom floor has a rather large area dedicated to PCs, and some VCRs with Video Monitors attached. The library offers WiFi, but there didn’t seem to many people with their own LapTops sitting at tables. There were some, but most seemed to be using the library’s fixed-station PCs. The VCRs all were busy with homeless, watching movies. There were very few people sitting at the many tables with a bunch of books open and clearly in use.

    I mentioned my observations to a friend of who runs a business in the SF, and got the following link about problems in the SF library back:

    Porn, Sex Crimes At Libraries:
    http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=i_team&id=4808374

    Crime in public libraries has become a very big problem in most cities, and even smaller cities are reporting similar problems, as the original posting in this thread so indicates.

  14. When you belong to a large system, the question is whether the book is available in the system, not on a shelf at a particular branch. Oh, darn, I have to wait three days for the book to come to my branch? Of course, if the book were at that branch but checked out, it could be weeks.

  15. I use the interlibrary loan program frequently. This program renders my small hometown library more than adequate for my needs. However, I am struck by how many commenters on this thread regard libraries as businesses. They are not. They are, at heart, a philanthropic institution whose real return comes in over decades, not quarterly. Much like (ahem) schools.

    There are not that many great books. 99% of everything is trash; why rush to throw out those few books which have survived the test of time? In the great, fancy libraries of the future, the Aeneid will be a special order item?

    This reflects the sinking literacy rate in the public at large. Grisham and King may be in demand because very few people have the ability to read more complex works. Such a long term trend doesn’t bode well for libraries, and I see no reason why libraries should act to hasten their own demise. They should be taking steps to build a literate public who will be willing to support libraries as repositories of knowledge, rather than as purveyors of cut rate entertainment.

  16. “Remember, that Copyright specifies a number of years that the work is protected, not that all works after 1923 are protected.” All works after 1923 are protected as long as the best Congress money can buy keeps raising the length of protection every time the first Mickey Mouse copyrights approach expiration. IIRC, copyright ran for 28 years in the 1920’s. It’s since been raised to 56 years, then 75, and now it’s 100 years. I fully expect that the length will be extended again before 2023.

  17. Wayne Martin says:

    > All works after 1923 are protected as long as the best
    > Congress money can buy keeps raising the length of
    > protection every time the first Mickey Mouse
    > copyrights approach expiration. IIRC, copyright
    > ran for 28 years in the 1920’s. It’s since been raised
    > to 56 years, then 75, and now it’s 100 years. I fully
    > expect that the length will be extended again before 2023.

    The main problem Google/Books has run into in its digitizing project is that of copyright. Google says that while it wants to fully honor copyright law, it has found that it has proven impossible to locate a large number of copyright holders, making the project’s task even more difficult. Copyright holders may, or may not, have understood the value of their copyright, and may, or may not, have included their copyrights in their list of assets prior to their deaths. There is no central clearing house that keeps track of copyright holders, so in many ways, copyrights are a big mess for the “modern age”.

    In the case of Disney’s copyright extensions, Disney has a huge financial interest in their protect works and will doubtless be seeking to extend these protections as long as there is a market for these products. The last copyright extension did not go without a fight. Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig (http://www.lessig.org/blog/) presented cogent arguments about restricting the length of these protections. Congress went with Disney, but with the next extension bringing the interval of protection to 100 years (presumably), it’s a toss whether Congress will go along.

    Hopefully, digitization of the world’s unprotected literature and protected intellectual property will give us some additional insight as to what make works better than our current system. One possibility would be to provide the primary author protection for a given period of time, with possibly one assignment of his/her copyright to a commercial entity. Works that demonstrate a longevity of commercial appeal (such as the Disney works) could be provided an extension. Perhaps an additional tax on the proceeds of such works (due to the extensions) might make sense.

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