Dumb Economy – What are we doing to our libraries and librarians?

Good grief, people.

I’m dismayed.

A trip to my local library and they’ve installed an automatic book checkout. What the…? What is the world coming to? I can understand auto checkouts in hotels. I’ll even say (after my initial refusal to use them) that auto checkouts at the supermarket can be real handy for one or two items. BUT NOOOOOOOOOOOOOT in my library. When I go to the library – I want help. I want discussion, a meeting of like minds and some advice. I’m not buying a packet of peas. I’m researching facts and looking for fiction to inform on my writing. I want to talk to someone who knows about genre, resources, writers and literature.

Yeah, I’m a writer. I make things up. Story, I make up. Details like history, technology, culture – those I need to ground in reality with facts. More specifically – verified facts. And that’s the difference between “real” hold in your hand, paper, published by a reputable source books and the internet. The facts in books are verified.

And… that’s not the worst of it. When I asked what this meant for the librarians’ jobs, I was glumly told that, though no jobs have gone YET, they will not be replacing anyone who leaves. This sucks and is so short-sighted. Ten years from now there’ll be screams about the literacy rates in our schools and how Australia has sunk down the international literacy standards. Millions of dollars will need to be spent to try to and educate our children to read more vocab than on a Twitter post or Facebook status. Come on, who is responsible for this?

When I did my Diploma of Prof Writing & Editing back in the nineties, the push was on for readers and the focus on raising literacy standards. What happened? Aim achieved, so now we don’t need to bother.

The lack of forethought and projectivity stuns me. I feel mad and sad. I’m not sure what to do about it, but I do know this is tragic and stupid.

I’ve signed petitions to save Librarians in schools, but, instead of seeing an improvement, everything I read says it’s getting worse. What can be done? Is there anything we can do? Because this is NOT progress. This is destructive and doing a great disservice not only to our children but the whole of our society.

If you’d like to read a more indepth, definitive view on the importance of libraries and librarians, check out 33 Reasons Why Libraries and Librarians are Still Extremely Important by: Will Sherman

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Elizabeth Jane" alt="Elizabeth Jane">

Elizabeth Jane

Well now, I am not sure about your library, but in our library we have separate staff for manual circulation of books, and other staff that are set aside to help people with their enquiries – ie. Librarians who are trained in the business of information finding, collection development, planning and management, children’s services. I am not sure that self-serve diminishes our service on that front. It in fact frees up staff for other fronts.

But, if you are talking about another of the library’s very important tasks – human contact and community, it sucks. Some people come to the library for a chat – and why not? It is a warm, clean place, with friendly staff. Hopefully, self serve will enable us to spend more time with the people that need it, while others who have reserved their book online, just want to pick them up and get away. Hopefully it provides the best of both worlds.

Of course, the manual handling of books is hard work. Self serve may also mean less repetitive strain injuries for staff.

Just giving my view from the inside. 

July 8, 2011 at 11:03 pm
    clairesaxby" alt="clairesaxby">


    We’ve had auto checkouts at our library for some time. Love em. I can collect my reserved books and check them out, extend my current borrowings and send myself an email reminding me what I have and when its due back. I don’t need a trained librarian to do that for me. My hope is that this is freeing librarians to do what they are trained for, share information and help me search when I’m stuck. And over the past few years, that’s been my experience. No longer having to stop to check books out, librarians can give me the time to tease out sources and resources that are more obscure.
    And chat.

    July 9, 2011 at 10:26 am
      christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


      Hi Claire

      Great to hear that auto checkouts are working at your branch and for you. I can see the pluses, if staff are kept and freed to assist in more productive ways.

      If they don’t take jobs, I’ll embrace them. Just not sure, from the attitude and feedback I received at my very small local branch library that this is the case. (Two elderly ladies huddled and muttering at the scanner indicated that certain sections of the community may not embrace them either. But they may be the ones you wait an age on while they have to recount the last book they read before moving on in the queue sometimes. :))

      Chris 🙂

      July 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm
    christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


    Hi Liz

    Thank you so much for giving the perspective of a librarian from the inside. I’m relieved to hear that in your library the self-serve checkout has the intention of freeing staff to assist readers and library visitors in other areas. What dismayed me and provoked my post was the way it was put across at my local branch where it sounded like it was ultimately going to replace staff. i.e. When I asked if it meant a reduction in staff, I was given the answer that none would be replaced if someone left.

    If auto checkouts free up staff to better use, I will support them wholeheartedly. I can see there could be great benefits. I hope that’s how it ultimately translates at my local branch.

    Chris 🙂

    July 9, 2011 at 12:35 pm
Corinne Fenton" alt="Corinne Fenton">

Corinne Fenton

I know Chris. I came across the same thing at the Brisbane Library and also at Ringwood on Friday. Worse still, apparently a state in the US are giving up teaching children to handwrite in schools. Yes! it’s straight to the keyboard.

Another dying art – shorthand. Tell me why then, groups of children were fascinated at the State Library of Qld. classes when I wrote their names on the whiteboard in shorthand.

July 11, 2011 at 1:46 pm
    christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


    Corinne, I read the reports of the school in Utah planning to drop penmanship in favour of teaching typing instead too. It seems extreme and sad in the loss of heritage and culture. Things are so rapidly changing, I sometimes struggle with the need to keep up versus a sense of loss of physicality and personality in the digital age. Though I suspect those thirty-years younger than us might suggest it makes perfect sense.

    One day, kids might be just as fascinated to see someone writing in ordinary script rather than typing as your students to see their names in shorthand. Not sure whether to laugh or cry at the thought. 🙂


    July 11, 2011 at 2:28 pm
      Sue Bursztynski" alt="Sue Bursztynski">

      Sue Bursztynski

      I’m one of that endangered the species, the teacher-librarian. My school is running a major literacy program, yet they’re cutting back on library staffing AND budget! can you imagine a budget of $3000 to run an entire library in the year 2011?

      Some things do free you up, such as SCIS, which enables me to download cataloguing records and get on with helping staff and students (though, having spent my $3000 already I don’t have the money to renew my subscription).

      I follow Barbara Hambly’s blog and she says they’re closing public libraries where she lives. I know the Governator was closing libraries in California too.

      What;s the future for literacy?

      July 16, 2011 at 4:41 pm
      christinemareebell" alt="christinemareebell">


      Hi Sue

      I don’t know what the short term future is for literacy. I suspect in the future there will be a sudden shift back when the statistics reflect the marked fall in literacy standards due to the withdrawal of funds to support teacher-librarians.

      It seems to be the way of things that as soon as situations improve the focus and funding shifts. Instead of maintaining ratios they let the situation slide until millions have to be poured back into literacy to raise the literacy levels. Stupid to my way of thinking and sad for all those kids/readers who miss out in the gap years.

      Keep up the great work you all do under duress and difficulties. There are still many of us out here who believe in the importance of teacher-librarians, what you do, and the value to our children.

      Best wishes,

      July 16, 2011 at 6:24 pm

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