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Librarian Demotions: Not Merely Unfair

by on February 27th, 2008

What are we to make of the demotion of the 3 librarians at the Marathon County Public Library?  Good business?  Solid fiscal prudence?  Oh, I don’t think so.  It’s shoddy and negligent – embarrassing to the whole community.  What happened here?  Nothing less than an outrageous incursion of a corporate value structure poorly overlayed on top of a public good.  It’s unfair and I call rot nihilism.  Had people in positions of power acted with greater prudence, this lament would be unnecessary.

The quotes by those sitting atop the hierarchy strike me as doubly wretched in that they render forth two conclusions: a moral lack of accountability in a way that undercuts civic values; as well as a basic misunderstanding regarding the distinction between public good and private entity.

Here we have an ugly form of administrative fiat – the triumph of bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy.  No one is willing to stand up and say “I am accountable.  This decision rests with me.”  This was a plan launched to cut costs back in 2003, initiated by a former library director and who knows how many former board members?  Only now – some 5 years later – are the cuts actually occurring.  The current director notes “I would rather keep people on staff at a lower pay than fire somebody.”  Fair enough, but I would rather see the director’s salary reduced than her subordinates.  And what we really need is some justification for altering the status quo.  She further states “We’re really becoming a community center…Our public has different requirements of us.”  No.  here we have slushy language masquerading as business savvy.  This is not communal and these are not values one would want one’s community to embrace.

That the demotions rest on the claim that librarians’ jobs are somehow less complex than they were in the past is dubious.  I think this a fabrication designed to justify poor decision-making.  Community – the word shares its Latin root ‘comm’ with communication, common, commitment and sundry other terms that delineate the ‘we’ in contrast to the ‘me’ or ‘I’  – community is a lie if it doesn’t take into account association with others.

Customer service specialist librarian…corporatized gibberish.  The public library as a social site is not a corporate franchise designed to make profit – it is a public good.  As such, the public library is a measure of one’s society, a touchstone of civilized conduct.  The library renders defense of a unique value system.  Mark this – public libraries are intrinsic only to democracies – free dissemination of ideas is not tolerated in other political systems.  The library is for public citizens, not customers.  That is a perversion of the language we should not abide.  The corporate franchise may freely use the term customer – the library no.  Customer implies a quid pro quo – money for service.  That is not what libraries do – libraries are sites of intellectual freedom with no charge for services.  Public libraries do not refuse to provide you with books if you cannot pay, indeed their very purpose is to offer services to those who may not be able to afford them privately.

What should be done instead of the arbitrary demotions?  Cut everything – and I mean everything – stop purchasing new books, end computer-services and upgrades, slash hours, even shutter the doors indefinitely with a big sign that says ‘NO MORE RESOURCES’.  The public deserves what it pays for…no more nor less.  It is better the public suffers as a whole.  That is the true meaning of community – shared burden, not merely shared benefit.  One thing is certain, people in power have no right to cheat those who have served notably and pass it off as good fiscal management.

I’ve always taken pride as a contributing friend to the Marathon County Public Library.  My personal book collection has benefited greatly by the annual book sales and my children have spent many hours frolicking in or around the building.   As one friend to another, don’t act with such shameful negligence.

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