Guest Column: Where is the public input on the library?
By Rachel Leon
I would like to clarify points made in Frank Novak’s “Staying relevant — why the library must change and embrace the digital revolution” (Dec. 21-27 issue). Mr. Novak is correct that there is a trend with ebooks, and it is the library director’s job to look at trends in publishing. However, it is wrong to imply that the cause of Borders’ closure was their lack of digital books. Many financial analysts do believe that the company’s inability to foresee the trend was a contributing factor to the closure (along with having too much debt, opening too many stores, over-investing in music sales, and perhaps most critically, outsourcing their online books to Amazon).
Mr. Novak stated that public libraries are phasing out print books. However, according to the American Library Association (ALA), most public libraries plan to devote between 8 percent and 10 percent of their total collection budget to digital material by 2016. This is significantly lower than the 34 percent our library is currently allotting. The question I raised previously was, do our city’s demographics reflect the need to spend 34 percent of our collection budget on ebooks, which was never answered in Mr. Novak’s response. Again, I raise the question, but I’ll push further this time — where is the public input before making allocations for our collection budget? I visit the library at least once or twice a week and have never seen or been asked to participate in any kind of survey about whether I own an ereader and want to see an increase in the digital collection budget. A public library is a democratic institution and, therefore, should ask public opinion before launching into something of this size. Remember, most libraries are planning to spend 8 percent to 10 percent of their collection budget on digital materials by 2016. I do not deny a national trend toward ebooks, but I again wonder if this 34 percent is permanent and out of touch with Rockford Public Library cardholders.
More than 70 percent of Rockford Public School students are on free or reduced lunch. For those of us who fall into that lower socioeconomic status, an ereader is not affordable. Some people do not have the money to buy food for their children, much less an electronic device that costs around $100. Perhaps I am allowing my background in social work and my awareness of the poverty in this city to cloud my judgment. Perhaps Mr. Novak’s interest in staying relevant and keeping up with the digital trend is clouding his. The only way any of us can find out is by polling the public. For a democratic institution, I would expect nothing less than an invitation for public input.
Rachel Leon is a Rockford resident and Rockford Public Library cardholder. She is a writer and mother who depends on the services and (print) materials that the library provides.
From the Dec. 28, 2011-Jan. 3, 2012, issue