Hard to tell from this piece, which relies heavily on quotes from a private contractor and a mayor who supports privatization, steaming the story along on the premise that Privatization Equals Efficiency. But it’s thin on concrete examples of what towns would get for their privatization buck. How exactly does this improve the lot of the library consumer? Would it make it possible to restore cuts in hours of operation, for example?
Another irritating aspect of this article is that it reduces arguments against library privatization to “libraries are just different” (and un-privatizable). I have a funny feeling that there are skeptical arguments out there that reach beyond, “GAH! … but … it’s the LIBRARY! A SACRED TRUST!”
Look, I don’t equate my library with Lourdes, but I do recognize it as a free public resource in a world where sometimes it seems the only thing free and public left is going to be the restrooms, and not so many of those at that. Practically speaking, a lot of taxpayers in my town depend upon a free library as a meeting and research space.
So how does a for-profit company fit into the municipal library’s mission to be a free, public space where toddlers are read to, seniors mingle, students do research with databases? What’s in it for the private managers, and what comes out of my hide as a taxpayer and consumer? What, for that matter, is meant by “outsourcing”? It could mean cataloging, or management, or materials selection (i.e., purchasing books/media for the collection).
The answers could be depressing or exciting. But I can’t say you’d find them in this particular article. Oh well: Chalk up another issue for the watch list.
Further reading: The American Library Association has been writing about the pros and cons of outsourcing for some time; some of their material can be found at their website.
I have a large, untidy pile of intriguing genealogy research questions I mean to figure out someday. One involves whether my mother’s uncle Georg Rudroff copyrighted a play in 1909.
My mother always said her Uncle George was a character. He was my grandfather’s older brother, the one who left home first. He emigrated to New York City from Kottweinsdorf, Germany in 1896, 30 years before Grandpa did. My mother described him as a tavern keeper, the occupation listed on his 1940 death certificate. At other times he was a drug company clerk and a Brooklyn Rapid Transit motorman.
He also was a bit stage-struck, according to Mom. She was a little vague on this point, although she once mentioned that he wrote songs and tried to shop one of them to Kate Smith, who was not interested.
A few months ago when I was supposed to be working (shhh!), I got bored and plugged my mother’s maiden name into this search engine at the Library of Congress. Four results popped up, one citing an unpublished play in German by Georg Rudroff. (Two of the others involve genealogical works in German by Arno Rudroff, an expert on all things Rudroff.)
I emailed the Library of Congress to ask how I might go about reading this play. It’s in manuscript form and I’d have to go to Washington to take a look at it. So for now, I don’t know whether my Georg is the author, if it’s possible to be certain of that.
What is certain is that in 1909, someone named Georg Rudroff copyrighted a play called Schwer Erkämpft (militärisches Volksstück in 4 akten). That roughly translates to Terrible Struggle (a military play in four acts).
Using “play” for “Volksstück” isn’t very helpful, because the Volksstück is a theatrical form with no real equivalent in today’s American theater. It was a populist work in which dialect was used to score dramatic and satiric points. A Volksstück might use a country-bumpkin character to poke fun at hoity-toity types, or trendy fashions. I can only imagine how a “military Volksstück” might look. Maybe Georg’s play was a forerunner of Catch-22?
Until we go on our oft-discussed trip to D.C., I’ll just have to keep wondering.
In the meantime, all I can say is: Try a surname search in the Library of Congress catalog. You never know.
“Some persons may hold the view that the public library is a sort of luxury to be indulged in when money is easy, but to be put aside when the economic shoe pinches. The period of depression has proven quite the contrary. People have flocked to the libraries in greatly increased numbers, finding there recreation of the highest type at a minimum of cost, and also means of study in preparation for the old job which will surely some day again need its faithful servant, or for the new job which will give the individual a better opportunity to earn a living and to enjoy life.”
– Judge Edwin L. Garvin, President of the Brooklyn Library Board of Trustees, 1932.
h/t to Richard Reyes-Gavilan, Central Library chief, at Brooklynology, the Brooklyn Public Library blog.
After college, I had a temporary job as a reporter at the Bridgewater (NJ) Courier-News. It was called a postgraduate internship, which loosely translated as: “We can’t hire any full-timers, but we could use the help for a few months.”
It was mainly fun. Sure, I often had to poke myself awake at municipal meetings, but I also got to cover Ultimate Frisbee tournaments.
And by far, the coolest perk of the job was the morgue.
“Morgue” is newspaper slang for the files of old clippings and photos. Before digitalization, this meant a roomful of overflowing file cabinets. It varied as to how well the morgue was organized, or if it existed at all. There might be an actual archivist on hand, but at small papers, there might simply be a copy editor who got sick of never being able to find reference material, so the morgue was a labor of love.
I lived for clip file research. Heck, I sometimes made up reasons to check the clips. (I really should have heeded this inner voice and chucked journalism in favor of a career in archiving.)
But today, newspapers are in shrink mode. Papers are closing. Or, like my former employer, they’re moving to smaller, cheaper quarters, with limited space for clip files.
This article, while bringing back memories, is a reminder that in many towns, the priceless resource that is a newspaper archive might be at risk. Fortunately the Courier-News management has donated its holdings to local libraries and historical societies.
But will everybody? What will happen to all that history? Speaking to a Syracuse, NY reporter, author and former newspaper guy Pete Hamill expressed the unique character of the morgues: “They tell you all the detail that historians don’t. How much was a pair of shoes. What did a guy pay to go to the ballpark in 1934 during the Depression. How many people were there.”
Interestingly, at least one business out there has sensed a commercial boon in old newspaper clippings. A few months back, Kevin Roderick at LA Observed reported on Time Capsule Press, whose owners plan to partner with newspaper managements to package material from their morgues into books. Their debut is a history of the Los Angeles Lakers drawn from the files of the Los Angeles Times.
It’s a definite bright spot of potential for a historical resource that can’t be allowed to disappear.