Nice is a cheap budget item

In my home state of Michigan yesterday, two public libraries in affluent neighborshoods were closed because their ballot items didn’t pass.  It was heartbreaking because it wasn’t so much a reflection of the libraries themselves, but a reflection of city politics and politicians who used the libraries as pawns in their minor battles. 

In many states, library budgets are being slashed on all levels.  Whole state libraries are being closed, entire library systems dismantled, and staff members are told that they are being let go.

This isn’t news to you, I know.  So yesterday, when I walked into my local library, I was irritated by their attitude.  We’re talking about a library that charges $1 if a patron doesn’t have their library card.  Not because they need the money, but because it’s an incovenience to the staff.   When I asked to have my items renewed, I looked at one of the titles and said out loud “Oh crap!!!” To which the clerk replied, “Did you LOSE one of the LIBRARY BOOKS?!?!”  What type of assumption is that?  I said “Oh crap” because I had left it on the coffee table at home and had made a mental note to bring it with me. 

My point?  Nice is a cheap budget item.  It doesn’t cost you anything.  And I will tell you this – congratulations if your budget is secure, your library well-stocked, your patrons all well behaved and friendly – but  our institutions are under threat and nice means a lot – now more than ever.  I could go through a list of “best practices” but you know what they are.  It’s the action and the doing that takes energy.  And if you have staff members who aren’t friendly or enforce necessary policy in a rude way, then you need to stand up to them.  You can stand up to them gently but you must stand up to them.  That is hard, but it is needed.  Nice is needed.

I hope that most of you escaped this election season intact and with political leaders who support your organizations.  Whether you did or didn’t, I hope that you’ll make the commitment that no matter what, your library and staff will be dedicated to a culture dedicated to “nice” and the limitation of unnecessary and rigid policies.


4 responses to “Nice is a cheap budget item

  1. deborah cunningham

    Ouch. And with MI having a, what, 11% unemployment rate?
    Quick question: Does the library charge you a $1 if you don’t have the card with you,
    or if you lost it and it has to be replaced?

    Thanks-and you’re right.

    • Deborah – Actually, I live in Indiana now so it’s my new local library here in Indiana that has the policy. (It was confusing how I wrote the post – sorry!) But they charge $1 if you don’t have your card with you. If it was to replace a lost card, I totally understand. But I have witnessed them charging little old ladies who left it in their car! Ack! Bad Mojo! I worked at a library that would make a note of patrons who consistently said they lost their card…if they did it more than a few times in a row, then we’d say “Hey, maybe you need a new card???” That seemed to work. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  2. I go into my local library (have been going there since 2004) and forgot my card… I told the lady behind the counter. She took a deep breath and then asked me my last name. I gave it to her. She said, “You always do this.”
    “Pardon me?” I inquired.
    “I just checked out a book to you yesterday. And you said it then too that you forgot your library card.”
    “This is my first time in the library in over two weeks.” I explained.
    “Yes. Well I suggest you don’t forget your library card again or you will be charged $1.00 next time.” She said. “I’m doing you a favor.”
    “I think you must have mistaken me with someone else. Vang is a very common last name in our culture. There are basically only 18 last names in our culture and Vang is the majority. I can assure you that every 3 Hmong kids walking into this library is a Vang. (The library is directly across from a middle school where 1/4 of the population is Hmong.)”
    She just smiled her little “whatever floats your boat” smile at me and checked out my books to me. I left, thankful that she checked out my book to me when it was my fault that I’d forgotten my card.

    But it kept bothering me… the exchanged made me very angry. I was short-tempered to everyone I came into contact with and I didn’t know why. When it finally sanked in… I felt really dumb, stupied and little… like an six year-old-child with no power, no say… even thought she was telling the truth, no one would believe her. When in reality I’m a 34 year old woman with a full-time career, kids, etc.

    Since then I’ve talked to the head librarian at that library about the problem and have stopped using it’s services. Petty but I now tell everyone I know to avoid that local library.

    • Hi – Thanks for sharing your story. That is such a shame that the staff member treated you in that way. I think that is all too common – people develop a power trip because they are behind the computer and then they’re rude and inconsiderate. I’m sorry that happened and I hope that you’ve found another library that suits your needs and has a policy of respect towards patrons! You may be able to have check out rights at other libraries in the area or in the same library cooperative. ~ Christine

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