Guest Column: What does RPL stand for?

By Tim Hughes

Earlier this summer, librarians who read my letter in The Rock River Times criticizing the Rockford Public Library’s lavish “kickoff” party for its summer reading program asked how I could not support such a worthy program. I offered that criticism because I do support the value and worthiness of such a program and feel in its present form, the library is failing too many kids. Why, I asked, could the library not stage a kickoff party that actually takes place inside the library, where kids can learn about a library and all it can do for them and then get a T-shirt? Just to prove I’m not a grumpy old man (not yet, anyway), the library could serve snacks and refreshments and create a celebratory mood without staging what amounts to a mini carnival that has nothing to do with libraries nor summer reading programs. The answer was swift in coming. We wouldn’t get as many kids that way, I was bluntly told. So, that brings me to my question, what does RPL stand for? Well, Rockford Public Library, you might logically answer. But I submit RPL has at various times stood for Racist Pandering Library, and the summer club is an example.

There is already the sickeningly violent “fighting video games” the library serves up in the so-called Young Adult Zone, games with such lovely titles as No Mercy, in which you get points for pummeling or killing a story character; games that educators have cited as the leading cause of the decline in literacy among adolescents; games Library Board President Paul Logli has justified as a way for librarians to bond with adolescents. Whatever happened to staff bonding with adolescents in helping them in their quest for knowledge and information, or is that just too old-fashioned?

A similar rationale appears to be the motive behind the summer reading club kickoff party, in which kids can play in bouncy tents, traverse obstacle courses, climb rock-climbing walls, take a dive on a water slide, dance to DJ music, get a free T-shirt and never have to set foot inside a library.

Such diversions are offered as a way to draw so-called “reluctant readers” to use the library, but I would like to know what evidence there is to suggest children and adolescents become readers when the library panders to their senses at the exclusion of appealing to their minds? The current library board seems to think children and adolescents are interested only in gratifying their senses.

Numerous successful and high-profile minority men and women have given public testimony to their neighborhood library as an island of civilization in the poverty-stricken, gang-infested neighborhoods in which they grew up.

Our library board seems determined to turn Rockford’s library into Gilligan’s Island. The underlying principles for how a library should function are being sacrificed to the misguided notion that you “have to speak the language” of the adolescents, so they’ll know you’re relating to them.

The Rockford Public Library has played a vital, historic role as a center of knowledge and information for the city and its neighborhoods, but will that continue to be the case if the city’s youth grows up thinking the library’s primary purpose is to provide groovy entertainment? Prizes are one thing, but chauffeured limousines for you and your friends to go to movies and favorite restaurants, leaving patrons choking on its exhaust fumes while recalling Board President Logli’s announcement that his No. 1 priority was to get the library open on Sundays? Having the library open on Sunday afternoons would benefit not only public and private school youngsters and adults, but Rockford University and Rock Valley College students as well.

The summer reading club finished nearly a full month before area public schools opened, so why couldn’t it have remained operational right up to time for school to start, or were the funds to pay for it already spent on the summer reading club kickoff party? All young people in the city are being denied meaningful library services one way or another. Will they be left with a lifelong T-shirt of limited opportunities because the library did not do for them what it should have done? When I stopped by at this year’s kickoff party, the longest line I observed was not one to sign up for the summer reading club, but for a bouncing tent with a sign over its door proclaiming “You Gotta Jump.” The line waiting to jump consisted almost entirely of minority kids. RPL, anyone?

Tim Hughes is a former teacher in Rockford School District 205 who coached debate and taught English at Auburn High School for 20 years. At Auburn, he coached three debate teams to first-place national championships.

From the Oct. 22-28, 2014, issue

2 thoughts on “Guest Column: What does RPL stand for?

  • Oct 23, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    Tim. You have known me and my family a long time. I have to say I am extremely disappointed in you. First I want to point out that the limo, prizes, and gift cards are all donated by local businesses. The party is held downtown to include as many people as possible. Also, it is a celebration of knowledge. Like a birthday or a graduation party. It is celebrating a commitment to reading. It is the single event of the summer that signs up kids for the reading club. It also gives patrons, library staff, and there families a chance to get to know each other. This treating down of am event just to treat it down is petty. I do not work for the library let me make that clear but I did work with them for many years at the cafe. Your other problem with the youth zone is also unfair and untrue. Yes they have video games. They are usually played by kids in Rockford that cannot afford such luxuries at home. They teach sharinf, fine motor skills, and communication and social interaction. For many of these kids it is a safe haven from a hard life and a chance to be a kid. Many of these kids also participate in reading, library activities, and my poetry slam at the nordlof center. Perhaps before you try to tear them down as well you should really sit and talk with both the rooms youth and staff. In fact before you keep writing this hate perhaps you should get all your facts straight. I am so disappointed I’m almost speechless.

  • Oct 23, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    Mr. Hughes, that was uncalled for. While your preference is that we pander to your wants and needs, the fact is we offer services to everyone from all walks of life. You bemoan the fact that teens are playing, gasp, video games, yet miss the fact that they choose to be at the library. Teens choose to be at the library above all the other options available to them!

    I’m sorry that library’s are not what you remember from your childhood. Today’s libraries are community centers, a place to find and share knowledge and skills. Gone are the shushing librarians of the past. In their place are people who help others and share the relevant knowledge of today-which means we use tools beyond books.

    I’m not going to argue about video games. You’ve been beating that drum for years. I will, however, argue with your assertion that the library is somehow racist. That is insulting and untrue. The entire staff of the library work hard to make it a safe haven for everyone, from children in a Storytime, to Young Adults in our YA Zone, to adults looking for the recent best seller or who have lost their jobs to this economy. We do not pander to race. I’ll say it again, I am deeply insulted by your assertion.
    As for the Summer Reading Club kick-off party, you clearly showed up well after the start time, because no one gets into the area without standing in the sign up line, period. Well over 10,000 children join the Summer Reading Club. They are required to come to the library a minimum of 4 times to finish. Many come to the library every single week over the summer. All participants are also encouraged to join programs and Storytimes and are given the opportunity to write book reports-which many children choose to do.
    You need to spend a little more time looking at the big picture, rather than belabor the same tired point over and over. As for calling me and my co-workers racists? You’ve gone to far. I’ll never get over that.jest 8 years.

Comments are closed.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!