Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Michigan Supreme Court to decide who can borrow

This is one of those important stories that librarians rarely consider: who pays the bills.

Everyone believes in free and open libraries (because really, we have no choice. Have you seen these people using the library? They terrify me. I'm not gonna try and keep them out).

But about a month ago I was watching Goodbye, Columbus (with Richard Benjamin, a guy who can make any other guy look macho by comparison--you're a handsome guy, but for pity's sake, leave your shirt on, Dick!) and there's a scene in a library where a kid walks in and the second librarian asks Neil (Benjamin), "are you gonna let that kid in?"

Omygawd! Is that even a possibility? To live in a world where the librarian can say, "No." Oh, heaven! This is what Michigan is struggling with now: can you tell a patron "no"? The specific question is whether someone can demand a free library card to borrow materials even if that person lives outside of the local taxing district and pays nothing to support the library. Many counties charge a fee for this privilege; the article mentions a $200 fee at one library.

I don't understand legal jargon, and I don't understand the appeal of Jamie Kennedy. But this explanation from the Michigan Library Association sounds pretty clear:

Pursuant to the well-reasoned and long-established constitutional and
statutory scheme, libraries are open to all Michigan residents; however, the
circulation of books may be limited by local rules and regulations. It is
entirely appropriate - and necessary - to limit book borrowing in accordance
with each library's contract(s) with surrounding communities. Otherwise,
libraries would not be financially able to make library services "available" to
Michigan residents.

So local rules apply. I'm pretty sure this won't go farther than this, but I like hearing that someone is willing to draw the line when desire for services (free copies, waived fines, unlimited Internet, just one more stock quote, medical advice, computer repair) exceeds the cost. Hell, I'll give anyone twenty minutes of my time: I'll check your laptop, download an audiobook or file for you, diagnose your scabies, anything, as long as we get it done in under twenty minutes. But there needs to be a point when we say, no, that's enough. I think Michigan will make the right call.