Re: NWR: Inspiring speech on libraries

Posting to Autocat

On Tue, 1 Feb 2011 16:29:03 -0600, Ted P Gemberling wrote:

Daniel, I was puzzled by that, too, after reading Mr. Weinheimer’s response to my original posting. There he had professed to “agree with every single point” Pullman makes in his speech. So I went back and reread his response and found something in it that is incompatible with Pullman:

“Of course, no one can know what final form libraries will take and that form will probably arise through some kind of trial and error–or in other words, similar to survival of the fittest.”

That’s exactly the point Pullman is trying to counteract. He’s saying there are things that are valuable to us and can’t be quantified monetarily. I have to admit I was initially a little taken aback by the studies you sent, because they only seemed to reinforce the idea that anything valuable has to be quantifiable monetarily.

So it kind of makes me wonder if what Mr. Weinheimer is saying is that Pullman’s sentiments are right, but that doesn’t have any practical consequences. Talk about how great libraries, are, and I’ll cheer you on! But I won’t necessarily vote to give you any funding, because funding has to be based entirely on hard economic facts. If we live in a world where that’s considered to be good sense, let me off.


This is a pretty good assessment of what I think. I actually *do agree* with Mr. Pullman 100% but–and I tried to make it clear in my original post–I realize that *it doesn’t matter what I think*. I am not the one to decide to give funding or not–the people who decide in 99.99% of the cases are not librarians. Most libraries and librarians are not autonomous; they exist through funding supplied by outside agencies. Therefore, the genuine decision-makers come from outside the library field. Many of them come from the economics/business world, or have been heavily influenced by business logic, and it is *they* who believe everything can be put down to numbers, not me. Often, these people come from the so-called STEM fields that almost never use libraries today. Consequently, in many cases, they have no special affection toward libraries, if not something worse.

And even if they don’t happen to believe matters such as library use can be put into numbers, they are still compelled by the logic of the situation to demand a sound business case from each entity they are responsible for. This makes it difficult for all sides. Still, if these matters were completely my own decisions, I can assure you, I would vote for the funding; in fact, I would change many things, but while I am wishing, I also wish I had Berlusconi’s money.

While I have some kind of discretionary power here for how to spend the library’s budget, the big issues are left to upper echelons. And especially in these trying economic times, extremely difficult decisions are being made as I write this. Look at what our British colleagues are going through:

One of the problems/conundrums we face is what you point out: “the idea that anything valuable has to be quantifiable monetarily”. I tried to demonstrate that even if you try to do this, you find yourself on a never-ending track: if the ROI is $4 for each $1 invested, the powers-that-be will ask: why isn’t it $5 or $10 or $20. It will never be good enough. I’m not pretending to know what the answer is–I’m not silly enough to think that I could solve something like that on my own–but I can point out some of the problems and pitfalls.

These people will point out that it is “well known” that libraries have always been a money pit, and they are a luxury that we can no longer afford. They will point to studies and research that cannot just be dismissed with a wave of the hand. I am fortunate that this is not the attitude at my current institution, but it has happened at other ones.

While I do not intend to denigrate any library’s attempt to show how it contributes financially to its community, I wanted to demonstrate how such an argument never ends, and how it could be turned. These are some of the challenges we are facing. Maybe that makes me a wet blanket (no offense taken Daniel! I’ve been called much worse than that!) or a party-pooper, but we are facing hard times.

Actually, this reminds me of the opening lines of Dickens’ “Hard Times” which may be relevant today:

“NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!”