In which I am aghast at the very idea!

Whilst looking at various library-related stories on Twitter, I happened upon this article which I thought, at first, must be a joke. You see, the piece details the decision, by a public library in Alabama, to begin enforcing an ordinance that could result in jail time for certain patrons with overdue library books.

Jail time?
For overdue library books?
What is this world coming to?
What kind of library director would countenance such a thing?
Is she insane?

To be fair, the full story is a bit more nuanced than its somewhat sensational title of:

Borrowed time: US library to enforce jail sentences for overdue books

After reading the article by The Guardian (my favorite news source from the UK), this story from the News Courier in Athens, Alabama, and this report from WAAY TV in Huntsville, Alabama, it seems that the facts are these:

  • Roughly $200,000 worth of books have not been returned to the Athens-Limestone Public Library.
  • Tossing patrons in jail is not the library’s initial response to overdue books. An email or text, followed by a certified letter giving the patron 10 days to settle the matter, are the library’s first attempts at a resolution.
  • Should those steps prove ineffective, a court summons comes next. An additional fine, and up to 30 days in jail, could be the result of ignoring the court summons.
  • The ordinance that allows for all this has been on the books for some time, but is only now being strictly enforced.
  • The measures above will not apply to children.

Woman's Hands Fettered With Handcuffs

On one hand, I sympathize with the library. $200,000 worth of non-returned books is serious business, and public libraries are not so well funded to be able to ignore the matter.

The library director herself is perhaps not such the hard-ass I first thought her. (And no, that’s not a very charitable thing for me to think about a fellow member of my profession. But I’m being honest… that was my initial assumption. This blog post is, in part, an attempt to see things from her point of view.) She’s quoted in the WAAY TV story as saying, “Our first step is to have a good relationship with our patrons and remind them to bring everything back.” And in the News Courier story, she makes it clear that she’s thinking of the taxpayers and about all of the patrons to whom library resources belong and the library’s responsibility to them.

However, after my first week of classes, in which my classmates and I discussed the Core Values of Librarianship, the idea of jail time for overdue books doesn’t sit comfortably in my mind with the American Library Association’s core value of Social Responsibility and the “contribution that librarianship can make in ameliorating or solving the critical problems of society.”

I know that I’m not a proper, credentialed librarian yet. I’m just a student and willing to admit that I’m inexperienced, and maybe even naive, not yet having worked in the library trenches in a full-time, professional capacity. But surely the threat of jail time (even for a tiny segment of public library patrons) is going to cause more problems in the community than it solves. Will patrons still feel as free to borrow from the library knowing what could happen if they cannot pay their overdue fines?

I confess I have more questions than answers, so I’d like to know… what do you think? I’m interested to hear from everyone: library directors, my librarian friends, fellow students, library staff, or anyone who’s ever forgotten to return an overdue library book. Do you believe that jail time should be the final sanction for extreme cases of non-returned library items? If not, how would you address the problem of $200,000 in missing materials?

In which I receive the gift of an entire library.

My youngest brother Jared has many talents, which include rocking his graduate coursework in applied linguistics, coaching runners, making tasty curry dishes from scratch, and living life as a hard-working, motivated, responsible member of the Millennial generation.* But perhaps my favorite of his qualities is his skill at, and penchant for, drawing imaginary cityscapes in his limited spare time.

He began a new creative project over the holidays and asked me if I’d like my own house in his latest utopia. “Yes, please,” I replied, “And may I have some trees in my yard? And could it be not too close to other houses, but still within easy walking distance of the library and other community spaces?” He promised me it would be, and when he finished, this was the result:

cityscape with arrows
Artwork by my brother Jared. (Arrows added by me.) Shared without asking permission first, because I’m the eldest sibling so I can do things like that. Bossy Big Sister Privilege is a little-known provision of copyright law, as long as you’re sure no one will mind.

The downward arrow points to my cozy house among a delightful copse of deciduous trees.
The rightward arrow points to the library of which I am now mistress. I adore it’s resemblance to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre while being thankful that it’s better protected from the elements. I’m delighted to see a free, public library in the midst of a city that looks so Renaissance-era European (where libraries were generally found at universities or abbeys, but not widely accessible to the general public… and almost never to women who weren’t among the clergy or nobility.)

I firmly believe that a library should be more than just an edifice full of books, and that a librarian’s mission reaches far beyond mere caretaking of printed artifacts. That being said, I’m inordinately charmed by the library building my brother drew for me. I confess that I do imagine it full of rare volumes and new publications, as well as spaces for learning, collaboration, and creativity.

As mistress of this city library, I don’t see myself remaining always within it’s physical confines, but happily venturing out into the community and becoming a person who improves society by facilitating knowledge creation with individuals, groups, and organizations. In the interest of accessibility, I may also advocate for more localized library services and spaces – perhaps a new branch? – for the citizens who live and work across the river. Mobilizing a corps of roving librarians to serve the homebound and residents of outlying areas is also part of my daydream.

What does this flight of fancy have to do with modern-day librarianship in the real world? Only that it’s important (as librarians, librarians-in-training, library staff, and/or library members) as often as we can, and by whatever means necessary, to widen our view beyond a specific library building, to see our larger community with fresh eyes, and to consider how we can serve it better. An imaginary library in an imaginary city can also be a visual reminder to share our mission with others and to discover the interests and talents that community members may wish to share enthusiastically with us.

* I often read and hear criticism of Millennials for being lazy and entitled. While I don’t doubt that this has been some people’s experience with the younger generation, I’m very fortunate that the Millennials I know are focused, productive, thoughtful, and generally society-improving people.

Project LISten: In which we meet Sandy D.

Click here for an explanation of Project LISten.

sandyd1
Sandy D at the iSchool. Photograph by Lauren Stevens.
  1. I always wanted to be an elementary teacher for as long as I could remember.
  2. The possibility of being a librarian came after working as a clerk in the local library.
  3. My children went to sleep with books as I have tried to instill a love of books in them.
  4. I never would have imagined that I would be attending Syracuse University as it is such a highly esteemed and expensive school.  I am very thankful for my husband’s GI Bill that he shared with me.
  5. My favorite book series is Anne of Green Gables.
  6. I want to help others grow in all areas of their lives.
  7. I have moved 14 times in 15 years of marriage.
  8. God is everything to me.  He has blessed me with everything and everyone I have in this life.
  9. My mom does not see the need for libraries so it is my job to win her over.
  10. Growing up I was labeled a perfectionist…as an adult I am one of those people who couldn’t care less about perfection.

[Heather’s note: Sandy is the first fellow LIS student I met on the morning of orientation. After talking with her for about 10 minutes, I decided she was interesting and that I wanted to be her friend. I’m not sure I gave her much choice in the matter.]

In which I introduce Project LISten.

In my IST 511 class (Introduction to the Library & Information Profession) we’ve talked about how good librarians use the resources of their communities to facilitate knowledge creation. Since leaving the bookstore world and starting grad school, my “community” has changed significantly. The people with whom I used to spend 40+ hours a week, at work or socially, are now almost 50 miles away from Syracuse, where I’ve spent most of my time since September. While doing my best to stay in touch with old friends, it’s been important for me to get to know my new companions at the iSchool.

Pondering ideas of community, resources, knowledge, and creativity – and wanting this blog to be about more than just my library journey – gave me the idea for a series of posts featuring my LIS classmates. Inspired by Humans of New York, I first thought of calling it Humans of Library School. But I wanted to incorporate the idea of listening to what one’s community is passionate about (based on a class exercise where we each talked for 2 minutes on a topic of interest to us). Finally, after asking for feedback, as wise librarians do, I’ve settled on Project LISten.Project Listen Logo 2

Each Project LISten post will feature a picture of a fellow student along with 10 sentences, questions, or interesting facts about them. In this way, I’ll learn more about my grad school cohort and be able to foster connections between them and my wider, social media community. Granted, I’ll be making these connections on a small scale since this blog doesn’t have a huge readership (yet). But it’s a start at putting into practice the ideas I’m learning in theory.

In the spirit of marshaling the resources of my new community, I’ve accepted the help of my classmate Lauren, who’s a generous, exuberant person and a wonderful photographer. Whenever possible, Lauren will take the photo that accompanies each Project LISten post using her creative knowledge and a professional-quality camera, an improvement on anything I could produce with my cell phone. I hope that over the course of the project I’ll find ways to incorporate the expertise of other classmates, and volunteer my skills and knowledge in return.

I hope you’ll all enjoy meeting these librarians-in-training as much I have. Look for the first official post tomorrow.