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Opening Arguments

Metaphor in a coal mine

Hey, all you bloggers out there, be careful when you're tempted to get creative with well-known apothegms. On this story about next month's closing of two Hammond library branches, they put this headline:

The Library in the Coal Mine?

There was no other reference to that metaphor in the story, so we're obviously supposed to remember the miners who sent canaries into coal mines to test the air quality -- if the bird died, the miners probably would. But the story here is about the fact that maybe there will be other library closings, and perhaps the state didn't forsee the consequences for local governments of the tax changes it made. The implication of the headline is that -- what? -- libraries are a test . . . oh, never mind. It makes no sense at all?

How many libraries should there be per population, by the way? Fort Wayne has a population of just over 250,000, and we have a main library and nine branches, which works out to one library per 25,000 people. Hammond has a population of about 80,000, so its main library and two branches gives that city one library per 26,667, roughly similar to us. With the two branches gone, they'd just have one for all 80,000.

Not asking because I think there's a "right" answer. Just curious.


Mon, 10/03/2011 - 11:45am

This may be the canary in the stacks.

Harl Delos
Tue, 10/04/2011 - 2:23am

Amazon just brought out a Kindle for $79, and there are more free books available for it than you'll find in the downtown ACPL.

Dead-tree publishers are on the ropes. Libraries do a lot more than lend books, but the core function is rapidly becoming obsolete. I suspect you'll want to close all your libraries soon, and someone needs to start digitizing the genealogical collection downtown, because to lose it would be a tragedy.

Leo Morris
Tue, 10/04/2011 - 10:48am

But lending out dead-treee books isn't really the core function anymore, at least at libraries such as ACPL, which have made it a point to change with the times. They ARE digitizing everything there, including some incredible collections of old Fort Wayne photos you can access online. Yes, there are free Kindle books (I have many of them on mine), but there's also value in being able to "check out" a Kindle version of the latest best-sellers at no cost. Also, as we continue retreating into our personal digital environments, there's a lot to be said for the library as a center of community, just a cool place to hang out in.

Harl Delos
Wed, 10/05/2011 - 6:48pm

Unlike Wisconsin, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, where I've also lived, in Ohio, libraries have their own taxing districts, and tax levies get submitted to voters. As best I remember, there have been years when most levies get passed, and years when most levies get turned down, but I can't remember a library levy ever being turned down. Voters seem to appreciate the value of good libraries, and they're willing to pay for them.

Of course, part of that may be because librarians have this image of being selfless spinsters who give up any social life in order to care for the printed word for a spartan paycheck. You and I know that wordworkers are selfless souls, aren't we?

But in another 20 years, some county commissioner is going to say, "Why the bleep are we funding the ACPL, anyway? Nobody borrows books any more." And unless someone figures out a way to define the core function of the 21st century as something essential to the community, it's going to be history.

I've been arguing for years that a community with third-rate schools can't afford second-rate libraries, but it doesn't seem to be working. Here in Lancaster, PA, we're seeing the state funding for libraries really drop.