Tuesday, April 26, 2011

ILL Advised to Pucker Up

Today’s post will serve as an official announcement that from here on, Tekton Building Blocks books will be done differently. Instead of large, single books, we’ll be issuing smaller e-books on specific topics that were planned for the larger books. These will, in the end, be compiled into a larger book, but it will take much longer – 2-3 years at least – to get these done.

Why the change? You can thank my local public library, which decided to save a little chump change by getting rid of interlibrary loan (ILL) service.

Readers may not be aware that ILL was an essential part of every Tekton Building Blocks project – and even some others as well. The metro Orlando area has some good libraries – two major seminary libraries and one major college library – and a few other good ones within driving distance for a day trip of reading and research. But many of the books I need are obscure and are only available by being borrowed from libraries far away from here. Hence, ILL was a necessary component of doing research. I had hoped that a local college library might provide it, but they do not. So here we are – for want of a nail.

This made for an interesting post in more ways than one. The demolition of ILL services reflects a trend that began well before the mid-80s when I worked for my local library as a clerk, and continued to be debated as I attended library school in the early 90s. Public libraries were caught between two poles, as it were – the philosophy that public libraries (not academic libraries) were intended mainly to be a resource for a community, and the philosophy that a library was intended to be more or less a center for entertaining the public – called at the time (and maybe even today) “give ‘em what they want.”

My philosophy has always tended towards the first pole. But I also recognized that the second had its uses. Where things go wrong is when libraries gravitate heavily towards one or the other – and actually, I should just say “one,” because public libraries always end up gravitating heavily towards “give ‘em what they want” if they weigh heavily at all.

In the 80s, the head of the Orlando library system – whose name, oddly enough, was Glenn Miller! – began slanting the library heavily towards “give ‘em what they want.” The system would buy literally hundreds of copies of what were expected to be bestselling fiction books (e.g., Danielle Steel) to ensure that no one would be waiting any longer than a week or two to read it. That meant we ended up with hundreds of copies of Steel’s books lying unused on the shelf later (or maybe sold in the library’s used book store), but the public was happy and that was all Miller cared about.

Just before I left that library, “give ‘em what they want” started to descend into profound idiocy. Formerly, returned books were sorted behind the returns desk; a new policy was instituted in which they were brought immediately to the floor on which they would be shelved and placed on as set of shelves as “just returned” so that the public would not have to wait even a couple of hours to get their hot little hands on a returned book. This made it harder for clerks to do their job, but – the public was happy, and that’s all that was cared about.

Since that time, Orlando’s library has been through at least two directors, but “give ‘em what they want” has plumbed depths of idiocy I could never have dreamed of. Upon entering the Orlando library today, a glance into the first floor reveals no sign of bookshelves – rather, you’d think you were in a movie theater. Librarians can’t be found at a reference desk – instead, library users find themselves assaulted by wandering, obsequious drones who aren’t even credentialed librarians (they stopped hiring those years ago, also to save money) who will ask if they want help (even if they haven’t asked for it). It’s a manifestation of what I call kissyface customer service (though I obviously have a lower anatomical target in mind), designed by extroverts who assume that everyone is just like them and everyone wants to turn every outing into a social one. It also assumes that the average library user is an idiot who can’t tie their own shoes – not an unreasonable expectation, though, given that they started treating them like idiots 30 or more years ago. Now the kids they treated like idiots and plied with videocassettes and entertainment in the 80s have grown up – and they still expect to be catered to, fawned over, and spoiled like kings. Surprise.

By now the reader will have realized that there’s a parallel here. Yep. In the church. It’s that same dichotomy between offering sound education programs and lively entertainment. And as there, the serious people lose, and it snowballs. Thanks to “give ‘em what they want” in the 80s, here in the “10s” I can’t get interlibrary loan any more. After all, all those entertainment programs and first-run movies on DVD and Blu-ray are expensive. So is the library director’s 6-figure salary. Glorified babysitters don’t come cheap, you know.

It doesn’t seem we can ever get away from the sickness that is top-heavy self-gratification.


  1. This post kinda brings up a question I've been pondering for awhile now. How in the world do we turn the tide of our society when the very structure of our society is one that favors individualism and give'em what they want consumerism. When I say the very structure of our society encourages these ideals, I'm talking about things like nursing homes, social security, and other forms of depersonalized government aid that encourage people to not depend so much on their family or ingroup like they would have in the past. My point is that even if people like you effectively critiquing the society we live in, what exactly would it take to change a society that has become so ingrained in fallacious ideals and thought patterns?

  2. I'm thinking the best we can do is reform a few people in our own corner of the world and hope the snowball goes in reverse.

  3. I've noticed that the non-fiction book section in my local library has been getting smaller and smaller over the years, to make room for best-selling fiction and DVDs.

  4. @Davids: I imagine that's also partly because publishers are producing fewer NF books -- they don't make anything like the money fiction does, with rare exceptions.