Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Air conditioning, anarchy, and makeshift summer camps

Two interesting news articles have been sent to me by other librarians this past week. Some context for the first one: the Smith Hill and Knight Memorial Libraries have been closed more than they've been open the last two weeks, because they're not air conditioned. When it gets too hot inside, union rules dictate that the building must be closed. Meanwhile, ABC6 is telling people to got to their public libraries to cool down, so the libraries that are open are overflowing (and so are my programs). Is this what it means to be a third space?*

Let me be clear: I'm very grateful for the AC in my building. Not only does it make me comfortable, but it allows us to be consistently accessible to patrons. However, I did enjoy this anti-air conditioning article from the Washington Post.

I did not enjoy this article, which has been circulating among librarians as well: Public Libraries Serving as Makeshift Summer Camps for Some Children in Chicagoland.

Let's just start with the word "makeshift." Do we want to be makeshift anything? Is that the best we can do? Why not be excellent libraries? We'll never be excellent daycares or summer camps. We don't have the staff or the training or the space. Besides the fact that the librarians in this article about are totally off mission, I think what they're doing is dangerous. We can't take responsibility for the well-being of children for hours at a time.

I realize that "unattended" kids are going to come into the library, looking to get out of the heat, use the computer, etc. That's cool. But I don't want parents to think that they're dropping their kids off for some kind of safe, structured program. I tell parents everyday, don't leave your kids unless you think they can be responsible for themselves. There is only one children's librarian here, and I have lots of responsibilities. I will not be watching your child.

And I'm not just saying that because I'm trying to be tough about job descriptions and boundaries! I really am busy ordering books, and planning programs, and contacting authors to fulfill this grant we got, and interfiling the paperback and hardcover fiction, and managing teen volunteers. Because that's what it takes to truly meet the service goals we have.

It's never been my goal to be a summer camp. I know that in these tough economic times, not everyone can afford summer camp, but they can't afford to lose their library, either. And they are losing library services when their librarians are trying to be day care providers.

*Sincerely, I'm asking. I'm not being sarcastic.

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