#cpd23 Thing 16: Us and our big mouths

Israel doesn’t have a strong history of advocacy for libraries.

In the first place, modern Israel’s history is too short for a long history of anything. And second, given our two library traditions: library as study hall (as in Bergmann’s National Library) and library as social educator (communist/labor party “workers’ libraries”) there hasn’t been a visible need for advocacy during most of Israel’s history.

Lately that has been changing. Whereas once library budgets were not only sacred in terms of funding, they were sacred in terms of use — no local authority would dare dream of diverting library funds for use in other agencies. Now that’s become such an issue that library budgets have been separated from local council budgets in many places, and yet the plunder continues: I’ve heard of libraries being told to buy computers which were then “donated” by the library to other local agencies and of libraries funding and planning activities which were to take place in the spaces of other agencies, with the host agency getting all the credit.

But it’s hard to get the Israeli public — so passionate about so much else — worked up about their libraries. It’s just the place they get free books, you know? When your rent is half your monthly salary, experts are predicting the world will end on Thursday, etc. how important is your local free book warehouse?

The Center for Libraries is trying to change the perception of libraries, but IMO too little, too late. This year they seem to be all about Facebook. Really? Isn’t that a little 2009? Frankly, the most passionate teens and 20 somethings I know are leaving Facebook in droves out of boredom. It’s a problem I’ve noticed a lot in Israel, and in my LIS program, too — they teach the program/site and not the skill. GoogleSites instead of HTML, Facebook instead of finding and engaging the readers.

I think the first step, particularly for small town libraries, is for the librarian to be more visible, not just inside the library, but outside. I spend a lot of time talking to people in the town whose library I volunteer in, and they, intelligent, well-read, Facebook-friendly people all, have no clue about half of the libraries services. If I were in the library during public hours more often I would tell people to come meet me at the library, as long as they didn’t mind chatting while I worked. The main advocacy problem that I’ve seen locally is getting people in the library’s doors.

To take an example which illustrates the problem Israeli libraries face: I’m an LIS student. A voracious reader. I work in information and volunteer in a library. And yet I have not borrowed a book from a library in about 10 years. If I want to read something I either buy it for myself or borrow it from a friend. I advocate for the library in which I volunteer, but wouldn’t bother myself, except for in principle, to do anything to save the library in my own town.. Why? As far as I know, it has nothing for me. It’s never done anything to draw me inside its doors. The only programs I ever see advertised are for pre-readers, of which I have none in my family. The library books I’ve seen at other people’s houses are not the genres which interest me. Why would I swerve from the path between the grocer and my house to check out the opening hours?

There’s no outreach, no variety of programs, no variety in collections, no requests for feedback from the community, no availability of information resources (I think I heard a rumor they might be getting a computer for patrons), and the librarian is a 21 year old girl with a high school diploma and previous experience in babysitting. My home library is infinitely more suited to me needs. Until the local library has something for me, expresses some interest in having me in its community, why should I take the time to advocate?

There, I think, is the difference between what Israeli libraries once were and what they’ve become (and consequently the source of their problems). The library used to be a community and now it is not.

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One Response to “#cpd23 Thing 16: Us and our big mouths”

  1. bumsonseats Says:

    I am very much the same: if I didn’t work in a public library I (most probably) wouldn’t use it.
    That’s worrying but as long as libraries don’t listen to what users want it won’t change. We hardl ever bother to find out about our non-users and why they are NON-users.

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