Reader’s ideas on library were just plain e-wrong

Posted: May 22, 2012

Perhaps Jason Kaye should take a break from the “activism” and do some serious fact-checking before dispatching ill-informed missives.

As a regular patron of the Free Library system, all I could do was continually shake my head at his May 16th article. If he’s looking for a combination Kinkos/Staples/Best Buy/Starbucks, then perhaps the Free Library, or any library system, isn’t for him, because that’s not what a library is about. A library system should attempt to fulfill the needs of as many of its patrons as possible (keeping in mind that you cannot please everyone), and paper books continue to outsell e-books, so he’s in the minority.

The continual talk of digitizing everything was nauseating, to say the least. It’s a nice idea about saving fuel when shipping books from one branch to another, but there are those of us who like our paper books and either do not have the money and/or the interest to buy an electronic reader.

He goes on about the sad shape of the branch libraries, but he failed to identify any branch that he visited during the course of his continual disappointment with the library system. I go to both the main branch as well as a few branches and I can tell him that there haven’t been VHS tapes on their shelves for a long time. That’s disappointing for me because, yes, I like VHS tapes along with paper books. I suppose I’m a relic by Mr. Kaye’s standards — even though I’m under 40.

Since he’s so big on the digital stuff, I’m curious to know how this library, or any other urban library system, is supposed to survive if the majority of its offerings are e-books, digital music and Internet cafes? That’s the reason bookstores have been struggling in recent years and why many more have closed — because people go in to take advantage of their free WiFi and sit down with either a cup of coffee for hours or, worse yet, don’t buy anything at all. A business can’t survive on that model.

The Free Library is also part city agency (staffed by city employees) in addition to being a nonprofit. This presents a complicated situation for many reasons, not the least of which is dual visions for the library system as a whole. But the anti-union propaganda about privatizing the library is dangerous business. If it’s privatized, who decides what material goes into the system?

I can agree with Mr. Kaye on the gripe about outdated books. Their books are outdated on every subject. Seems the only up-to-date books are mindless ghost-written celebrity tomes and fiction books from the same five folks with the same storyline but different names that one can see in any bookstore — if people under 35 even know what bookstores are.

On the flip side, how can the library buy updated books regularly when, according to a report released in March by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the staff has been cut to the tune of 14 percent, service hours were down by 12 percent and government contributions on all levels were down by 19 percent? Couple that with the fact that not enough Philadelphians use the library, and it’s not good news.

And why would library patrons need to create a PayPal account to pay their library fines when they can pay it directly online at the library’s website? That’s been going on for a few years now, Mr. Kaye. Again, fact-checking is a wonderful thing.

And he should check out the many exhibits that the library has celebrating history throughout the year, especially the ones going on now at the main branch about the Titanic and the video exhibit about medical experiments during World War II.

Yes, libraries should be up-to-date with their technology, but if that’s all he’s looking for then maybe he should buy a Kindle, iPhone and/or a laptop and stay home. n

Donna Di Giacomo is the author of Italians of Philadelphia, published by Arcadia Publishing (2007). She has been a contributor to the Daily News opinion pages since 1991.

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