Library's Lacking?

I actually love the library and frequented libraries in many cities I've lived in. I enjoy studying as much as others might enjoy reading history novels or poetry. That changed several years ago when I was "blacklisted" by the Tyler Public Library. I was frequenting the library at the time and had checked out a book by a certain author. I noticed that the card didn't exactly match the spine and the counter person said not to worry. When I later tried the check out another book there was an unreturned book on my record. It was a book with a different title by the same author. The card for the book that I had supposedly checked out didn't have a book to go with it obviously. That was the last time I tried to check out anything.

However my library experience is more involved than that. When I was in high school I worked in the library and at graduation received recognition as a Student Librarian as well as a distinguished service award for what I did. My time was spent organizing the library shelves. Most of the official student librarians used that time as an opportunity to socialize. They would grab a handful of books to be shelved and just put them on the shelf anywhere. That's where my work came in. Prior to graduation the librarian encouraged me to take up library science as a career and I did take a few classes in college.

I suspect the staffing at the Tyler library is similar. At least a few years ago the library was hiring staff to shelf books with no experience required. Attention to details in matching cards and books and in shelving books is something that you are not likely to get from an employee with no experience and minimum wage incentive. But personal experiences aside let's examine an issue brought up by a Tyler Courier-Times--Telegraph article dated February 25 2007

While the lead paragraphs in the article noted that Smith County has fewer libraries than the average for the state later in the article it was noted that Smith County spent more than the statewide average per capita. Other statistics are also noted but taken out of context of the characteristics in Tyler they may be quite misleading. In fact some of those statistics could be interpreted quite differently.

Higher than average expenditures and lower than average library visits seems to indicate that it's not a matter of how much we spend that affects a library's usefulness. It's a management issue. More than that it shows in general that we are spending too much on the library. In short the library is needed to the same degree that it is being used.

There's always going to be someone saying they don't have adequate access to a library but on the whole the Tyler library is meeting Tyler's needs. Typically the public library is used by lower to middle class people. Tyler however is one of the more affluent cities in the state and the affluent are not as likely to use or need the public library. Instead of comparing by total population (and reaching for the 100 000 mark) a more accurate comparison would have to be with the number of potential users.

School and college libraries also meet many of the library needs of Tyler. With three colleges within the city limits students have abundant access to library services to supplement their public school libraries. And the college libraries are also open to the public.

The needs of a community are also affected by access to other sources. I suspect much of Tyler has access to the internet and limited need for library materials. Universally information needs are being met more by internet services and the need for library services are diminishing. Even more significant the information needs are considerably more specific than three decades ago making it less likely that a small satellite library will have whatever the user needs.

BTW the Tyler League of Women Voters that did the study of the library services is an organization that has its base (at least unofficially) at the Tyler Public Library. The LWV voter's guides are available there as well as a rack of LWV literature. Such is the nature of Tyler politics and journalism.

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