April 2009 | Michael Lieberman

The Tipping Point at the Public Library

homeless seattle public library image.jpgAsleep at the Seattle Public Library. Image via

So much for the trickle down effect as a sane economic and social policy.

As the woes of Wall Street make their way to Library Street the trickle down effect is quickly becoming the trickle death effect.

If your library is not in danger of it's hours or staff being cut due to the strained budgets of cities, counties and towns across the world then it is probably in danger of being overused and overstressed by the hordes of visitors reeling from the economic troubles of our time.

Either way is unsustainable and without quick action god only knows what will become of these community centerpieces.

The New York Times piece, "Downturn Puts New Stresses on Libraries," gives us a glimpse of deteriorating conditions most libraries are facing. First, there is an increase in violence in and around our libraries. Of course if we lose the safety fight, all else will fail. Then there is the increase in usage and the increasing needs of library patrons and staff.

Barbara Vlk, a librarian at the Arlington Heights, ILL. library says "More and more people are in need of help and direction" and adds "I've had people come in and talk for hours." Now one doesn't usually think of the library has a place to go to "talk for hours."

As for the librarians, "Many say they feel ill-equipped for the newfound demands of the job, the result of working with anxious and often depressed patrons who say they have nowhere else to go" and some libraries have even hired therapists to help the staff!

It's not looking much better in the UK. John Harris' piece in the Guardian, "Our libraries are at risk - just when we need them most" reminds us of the danger of underfunded libraries. "Thirty-odd years of underinvestment has often led to libraries becoming so shabby and poorly resourced that warnings about their supposed unpopularity become self-fulfilling prophecies."

The library as social service center is far from a new concept. It is; however, the type of social services that are most in demand that has changed.

Previously on Book Patrol
The Library as Shelter, 11/06
The Library Asylum, 04/07

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