4 Things Public Libraries Needs To End

I joined a GLAM Blog Club in part to motivate me to share ideas and write more and also to channel ideas into the monthly theme prompts that the GLAM Blog Club challenge us to write about. I admit to being sometimes way off topic but this month I decided to intentionally be on message — and yes the theme is THE END, appropriate for the end of the year. Here are my 5 Public Library things that need to go in 2019.

Library Fines : There has been a lot of news about libraries, all types of libraries but especially public libraries, going fine free and more evidence demonstrates that Library Fines only punishes the poor. The people who can least afford to pay fines are often the ones who need the library service the most and are locked out of using libraries for fear of fines or from the incurring of fines and being unable to pay. Library fines undermine one of the core principles of public libraries — the provision of free and universal access to information. There is also no evidence that overdue fines encourage meaningful compliance. Ultimately it is up to every Library Manager to make the case, to their Board, their Councils or their Deans of the impotence of Library fines and the detrimental effect they have on the community that the library serves. There is also a significant cost to the collection of fines that is never calculated when the case is made to impose them. One library service has calculated this at 1200 hours of staff time to administer loans — hours that staff could be delivering much more valued services. And if you cannot remove fines all at once take some initial steps. At my own library we have successfully removed fines from all children’s items in the middle of a financial year with Board approval and an amended budget. We have also implemented automated renewals and a grace period so fines are really only imposed on those items on hold that users return late or keep longer than 9 weeks and 3 days. For the past month we have also run a Food For Fines campaign which allows the community to reset their fines to zero with a donation of food and this year we collected over a tonne of food for the needy. One of the most wonderful outcomes of this campaign was all the lapsed Library users who came back. They had not been in the library for years as they were afraid of the past fines. All these activities you can do right now as steps to move to a fine free library if this is not a decision that can be made immediately. For the 2019/2020 budget preparations the case will be put to my Board to remove all fines. Yes, it will mean a tight budget but I do believe an uptake in members, visits and loans will result which gives me better evidence to prove the Library Service’s value than does a revenue line that actively turns the community away.

Dewey classification: yes it is time to let go of this white man’s classification system. And that means Library of Congress Headings as well. Yes we do need a shelf locator and yes we need metadata and tags to find the items on the shelf. But our systems need to be in line with the other voice systems that people are now used to. How does Siri locate a book on our shelves? Natural language, crowd sourced tags could be added to our catalogues. We also need to be more mindful of respecting our First Nation peoples with the descriptors utilized within our catalogues and not use derogatory European terms set in the early twentieth century to describe the material collected. Others have written much more eloquently about this than I can. Nathan Sentance on his blog Archival Decolonist has written extensively about collecting institutions and respecting the indigenous way and I urge everyone to be more aware of the racism inherent in our cataloging systems.

Our non fiction needs to be organised in smaller genres as more and more customers want much more curation to make it easier for them to choose a good book in the subject field of interest — too many rows of non fiction just turns them away as there is too much choice. Non fiction could be a major asset for libraries but it continues to under perform and given it is a best seller at the book stores I do think it is how libraries organise, display and promote these collections that needs to be improved. So Dewey needs to go and let’s genrify the non fiction more — there has to be a better way for a shelf locator to work than a Dewey number so let’s start working out how to do this better. There is also some discussion happening within the profession about what is best to go forward and a mix of professional description and natural language and user generated tags might be our future.

Teen spaces: I see a lot of wonderfully designed teen spaces in libraries with no teens in them. I see no need to corral teens into one space in the library. Libraries do need different zones but I think that teens should be able to go into the whole library based on what they want to do as anyone else. Study in the quiet zone, game in the gaming zone, make in the making zone, collaborate in the noisy zone. And yes, everyone must abide by the behaviour standards for each zone — and that goes for all ages not just the teens. Of course we still need the children’s zone but that is the only one that should be zoned for a particular age. Others think so too so I am not alone in this thinking.

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4. Library Card: has had its day and we must admit this an move on. Libraries love a good library card that promotes the logo and there is often a hard and fast rule that you must have your library card to borrow and if you do not have it a small fee must be paid for a new one. In today’s world people hate having too many cards. They want to scan it and keep it in their phone with their apple pay and then just use the membership number when they need to borrow. This is a consumer world without cards if possible and we must provide the current experiences if we want people to be confident to use our systems. Yes, there is a lot of nostalgia for adults who love the library about their first library card and they may want the same experience for their children. But the reality is that wallets are not common anymore and people want to have as few cards as possible — they log in and want to stay logged in. For older self serve machines turn on the keyboard function so they can type in the number and the newer ones make sure that they can scan a card from a phone. Digital memberships do not need a card just a membership number to login so do not insist on sending out a card to someone who simply wants to use your digital library. And while we are at that point work out ways to reduce or eliminate barriers to membership. Set different types of membership for different types of residents. Do not have any identification today? That’s okay you can sign up for our temporary 12 month membership that has reduced lending and upgrade to a full membership when your identification comes through.