Thursday, June 23, 2011

Can I check out a book please?

That's what I expect to see after committing search after search on my local library's website. Why? Because the vast majority of the time I'm searching in vain. I just don't get it. Well, I do get that funding is a major issue. However, I don't get what drives the selection that is there. Is it the same as what mysteriously drives the book selling market? I say "mysterious" because it's beyond me why nothing I and many others prefer to read is hardly ever available in a bookstore in this city.

The library has a request form that I've employed at least two dozen times to have only one request pending fulfillment. Even that one took months for a response. I've inquired a few times with various librarians at the largest branch about how books are chosen for the inventory and how quickly are new releases added. That was pretty much a bust. I got some vague, dismissive response. Honestly, I don't think she knew the answer. I know some might think it harsh I'm bitchin' about public libraries but it's because they are important to creating a vibrant image for a city and because I'm a bookhead...HELLO!

I commented earlier on a post by another book blogger that I'm given almost no choice but to purchase most of the books I read as I cannot get them from a library here. I've been asked about an interlibrary loan system. Huh? I've always only thought such a thing existed in academic libraries. This prompted me to prowl around some other cities' library systems and I was rudely awakened.

So, I called the branch closest to my home which happens to be the largest and spoke to a really kind woman who responded as best she could to my questions. Basically, as I mentioned before, it comes down to money. I did let her know that I wasn't just some griper who doesn't contribute to the pot. I've patronized every book sale for the last two or three years and the used bookstore which helps fund the library. As a matter of fact, I purchased four books from their used bookstore in the last week. She did tell me that we do have an ILL system. I asked if it's on the website anywhere and she was certain that it's not. So am I. And she seemed to get my frustration with that. However, that hasn't stopped it from amassing a high volume of requests. Now I know.

I feel like my patronage at the library's book sales is for naught. It seems to be funding the attainment of everything I don't enjoy reading. Should I just spend my money only on what I want to read and not care if the library flounders? And I'm not suggesting that my support will bring the library's demise but I know that every little bit helps.

Is the problem merely the allocation of tax dollars to or public libraries shamefully low?

How are things at your local library? Does it sufficiently feed your reading habits?


And, lastly, what trends do you see in the inventory in your libraries when it comes to literature by authors of color?

11 comments:

Amy said...

My library back in Price Edward Island was tiny but, well, so was the entire province so I can't complain too much. I heard once that PEI was the first library system to do system wide lending, though I don't know how true that is (you can request a book from any library on the province and they get it to your library for you).

Now that I am in Toronto I have yet to change my ID to be able to get a library card, but I have been online doing various searches for books just to see how great it is. I have to say that so far I am only moderately impressed. Sure they have a ton of books by African authors.... but a large number of them are for reference only so can't be checked out. It seems to be better for authors of color but I haven't searched for many yet. Some it seems they have the latest book but not prior works. Frustrating for sure.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Money is a huge problem, and when 8 gazillion patrons come in requesting the latest James Patterson, you have to go with that, even if you personally would like to order different kinds of books. It's a sad state of affairs but I think librarians aren't the place to put the blame. If taxpayers were more interested in libraries than more police it would be a different and way better story. And yes I *would* buy the argument that racism towards people of a variety of colors fuels the emphasis on police "protection" by middle and upper class white voter/taxpayers, but I don't think that racism fuels the decisions made by librarians. I think they are caught in a bad place.

Keri said...

Budgets definitely have a HUGE effect on this. I work in a library that make a big effort collecting books by African-American and Latino authors but I know libraries in towns with less diverse populations do not make it a priority AT ALL which is really disappointing.

One difficult thing about library collections is theft, which unfortunately (as far as fiction goes) hits street lit harder than any other section.

Literary African-American writers are not stolen at higher rates than other books, so libraries buy those with no problem, but for street lit, if you buy ten books, six month later you're lucky if two are left on the shelf. Some will be stolen out right and many others will be checked out and never returned.

There are a lot of non-fiction sections which are frequently stolen - GED books and Bibles in particular. I don't want to suggest that this only happens to books featuring African American characters! But I know this is a factor in library buying because if your money is dwindling you don't want to spend it on stuff that isn't going to be around.

Doret said...

I live in Atlanta and love my libraries. Since the bookstore I worked at closed I've been giving my library cards (I have 2) a serious workout.

I am lucky enough to have libraries with very good and Children's and Adult selections.

Pearl Cleage's lastest novel, I Wanna Testify is waiting for me at the library right now.

Terri, I can't believe you can't do ILL's online. Do live in a small city?

Have you checked out the selection in the next county . If its good it may be worth it to pay to get their library card.

Keri - What city do you live in? How does your library decide which authors to purchase?

Though I know its wrong, its nice to see people are stealing GED book. Hopefully they pass. I've heard that test is hard.

Charlotte said...

My approach was to become president of the Friends Group. That way, if there are books I want that aren't in the system, I can more or less just go buy them with the Friends Money! That's what I did with Zeta Elliott's Wish After Midnight, for instance.

campbele said...

It sounds like a bit of mismanagement with employees not sure of policies and procedures, topped with a poorly implemented website.

The library system in Indy will order books at reader's request but it does take quite a while to get them processed. It was explained to me a long time ago, but I don't remember why. Also remember not everyone who works at a library is a librarian. You could have been speaking with a part-time clerk who attempted to answer your question.

Vasilly said...

*hugs* One of the worst things in the world is a poorly stocked bookstore or library. I'm lucky enough to live in a decent-sized city that has librarians who think about the demographics of our city when purchasing books.

That said, I'm also a member of surrounding libraries such as my local college library system because they usually have the non-fiction books I'm looking for and the Free Library of Philadelphia for ebook and audio versions of books I can't find at the first two libraries. It may sound like a lot of work but it really isn't. Anyone can join the Free Library of Philadelphia for a small yearly fee. I think it's $39 now.

I do think the allocation of tax dollars to public libraries is pitifully low. It's sad that cities and states don't see how important libraries are.

This may sound funny but I don't think you should buy any more books from the library sale. If you're having such a hard time getting most of the books that you want, you should find something else to support with your money. Can you get a library card at a nearby library system?

Terri said...

Doret, I live in Memphis. It's a small metro. Funding is always the reason. I think it may speak to academics in general and how undervalued they are here. Atlanta is more diverse and has some high caliber learning institutions.

Keri, you make a good point about theft rates of literary v. urban Black fiction. I have heard this from staff at a few branches.

Thanks for the hugs Vasilly. ;)
And I've thought about ceasing my financial support but I wonder if that's the right approach. since it only seems to benefit those who read urban fiction, maybe I should. and I could get a card with a nearby system but it's about $50 annually. I don't think their stock is much better and its all the suburban libraries which will probably present the same problem. The divested from the Memphis PLS because the city couldn't afford to maintain them so they privatized, sort of.

Elizabeth said...

Beautiful blog....so sad about your library.

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Stopped by to take a look around.

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Elizabeth

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the KrollFords said...

Terri, one great next step would be to see if there's a library board you can join -- become a policy leader, perhaps!

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