Thursday, December 17, 2009

Where Libraries FAIL

I want to say one word: Plastics. I mean Advertising. Libraries can be as digital or as 2.0 as any other institution. But we will always fail because we don't accept advertising.

Advertising is the U.S.A.'s grossest, um, largest domestic product. Corporate sponsorship of events, advertising on Internet search engine results, logos on baby nappies, tattoos, billboards, television ads: is there one place where you won't find advertising? You could answer your church, but I'm sure there are companies mentioned in your hymnal who helped pay for the printing.

The only places I can think of that are ad-free would be tied to the government: public libraries, school media centers or libraries, universities and colleges. Some other libraries might be ad free, but only because they support their business: medical, legal, and other special libraries.

So most libraries are either part of government, the educational system, or they support some corporate entity already.

But public libraries, in particular, continue to struggle with their identities. Are they part of local government, established to support civic education, or are they entertainment centers?

I was reading a post-link from LISNews on video games in libraries, and I can see baby steps into the world of corporate sponsorship. In the world or print materials, libraries buy based on content, demand, etc. We don't buy books exclusively from one specific publisher. We don't buy only Disney DVDs. We have VHS and DVD, but those are two different formats on a technology timeline. What did libraries do when they had to choose between VHS and Betamax?

But in this world of video games, what do you do? Are you a Nintendo library, a Microsoft, or a Sony? Or do you buy everything for PSP, DS, Xbox, PS2, PS3? Does Nintendo care if you lend only their products? Should they?

And what about Microsoft and Apple? Libraries have been heavy Microsoft users in the past because most business and home users wanted Microsoft products. Will libraries be able to afford to purchase both brands of hardware in the future, if Apple gets more market share?

I think libraries should accept corporate sponsorship now. Become that Apple Library or that Sony Library. I would love to wear a bright, blue NASCAR pit crew jumpsuit emblazoned with logos from Skoal, Sears Diehard, and Tide.

Take me to the McDonald's Library! your future kids will say. And you'll think, "Wait. Didn't that used to be the Hershey-LEGO-Smirnoff Library? Ohgod, I love how they used to give out free Lego-shaped, vodka-filled chocolates with each new library card."

Companies already do this with sports arenas where they change the names every few years. It's not Yankees Stadium anymore, it's Wisconsin Mutual Insurance Field. No, wait, it's Budweiser Extra Wheat Non-Alcoholic Brew Stadium.

I'm just kidding about the advertising. My library is part of our government, so this isn't going to happen. We'll just struggle along with minimal funds as we always have. But if we can't manage to generate any self-respect or pride for our essential role, then it probably won't matter what we do in the future. Because if we can't figure out what we are, we won't be a library.