Friday, April 28, 2006

CEO a bit out of touch? Me thinks Yes!

When the local library system here hired a new CEO back in 2003, there was a lot of controversy already in the works, but many thought more was coming. It seems they were right. The new CEO changed the focus of the tax based spending and has created a rift among the staff and patrons by cutting services/hours and changing staffing levels. In addition, more self-service systems have been installed and positions that formerly required an MLS have been eliminated and retiring librarians are being replaced with less experienced and educated staff. With all that said I still think we have a good library system, but the changes are hard to get use to. Years ago the library was so difficult to use as there was so little staff, even less technology, and virtually no children’s services. Now some are worried, myself included, that we are headed back to those times again. One of my favorite things as a child was to go to the library, but I was always intimidated by the set up and staff. Even when I worked there as a page, the library did not have an inviting feeling. So, when that perception was noted and changed over the last 15-20 years the library and its branches became the place to go. However, it is now beginning to have that old familiar feeling of being distant and uncaring.

In today’s newspaper an article elaborates on how the library is beginning to meet the needs of another part of the population. The “I want to watch a movie” rather than read group. At first when the library shifted a large portion of their spending to include more DVD’s it was thought this would increase the library’s traffic and overall circulation, and it did. However, the circulation of DVD’s went up by over 2.4 million, but the books went down about 2 million. As everyone knows a library needs to maintain a balanced collection, which is hard to do with limited space. So, in the tradition of collection management the library conducts a typical weeding process based on a number of criteria. But, one of things from this article that struck me was if the circulation on books are going down and DVD’s up, shouldn’t the criteria be rethought for books. Also, where is the balance to be maintained with the overall collection? Are they going to start ignoring those that really like books and programs around literature or are those going to be reduced to make more room for a popular media that is widely available elsewhere? I am not an advocate that movies have no place in a library, but it makes one hope that the literary background and history of libraries is not lost. Our library system has survived and even flourished in today’s market of big bookstore cafe type places. If anything, these stores have helped increase the traffic and book circs for the library. Yet, are DVD’s going to do the same?

So, why am I rambling on here about this news article? The comments made by the CEO bordered on “I told you so” and that she thinks she is really in touch with the community. I think to some degree she is reaching a market that was previously left out. And, this one change she made was good, but I think she is also missing the point as to why the overall book circulation is down. This DVD program may be a hit, but I think the overall library and its longtime and traditional patrons are taking another type of “hit” from her cutting of overall services, which I believe are reflected in the numbers reported. You can increase one program and still keep numbers high. The fact that she is glossing over the decreases seems to me she is out of touch on the big picture. There is an example sited in the article with a local library system in the adjacent community. They have actually seen an increase in their books circulation. That library system has an extensive DVD collection and has not cut back on any services or staff. Hummm.

Thanks for letting me vent. (Sorry that some of what I have said is probably vague and leaves a lot of the behind the scenes picture out. Oh, I do not work for them, but have friends that do, plus as a former MLS student a few years back I was fortunate to be able to study several of the surrounding community libraries and the local one as well.)


Anonymous mjd said...

Well put. Visual media may have unique attraction for the public. However, DVDs cannot replace books in building imagination and creativity. If readership is down, perhaps, part of the job of the librarian is to build and restablish interest in reading and in books. That is what you are doing with "The Magic of Books."

10:37 PM  
Blogger Frema said...

I agree, that stinks. You can rent movies at Blockbuster for four bucks. Where else can you "rent" a book?

9:32 AM  

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