Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Power of One.

I don't have any sources in front of me, but when has that ever stopped me from arguing a point? And that point is, that everything is decided by one person.

Yeah, I'm rounding down. But I'm sure you've seen numbers that say things like ebook sales account for only 8% of the publishing market, or that only 3% of people who use social networking sites actually buy anything with real money, or that 1% of Wikipedia users contribute content, etcetera, etcetera.

So in this case, the Power of One means from 1 to 10 percent of the whole. Clearly a minority.

And if you work in a library, you know that one asshole can ruin everything for everyone else. Either he wants to ban a book or ban a Christmas tree or display a Christmas tree or piss himself or spill his coffee or bring a freaking parrot into the library.

Yes, I'm betting that if some asshole brought a parrot into your library, perched on his shoulder, you would let him. Because he'd have some therapist's note that says the parrot "calms him." Or you'd let in a guy with an anaconda or a ferret or an inflatable anime love pillow. Because it calms him. And that's better than medicine. Until the parrot pecks your eye out.

Twenty years ago, when I first started my library career we had two rules for library behavior, "No food or drink" and "Shirts and shoes must be worn in the library." But then some asshole had to come in with two flank steaks covering his ass and his groin. Yeah, he had on a shirt and shoes, but he also wore a steak thong.

So we had to add to the RULES for LIBRARY BEHAVIOR:

  1. No food or drink.
  2. Shirts and shoes must be worn in the library.
  3. No meat pants.
Now 20 years later, our Rules for Library Behavior lists about 65 things you can't do in the library. For the 65 assholes who did something stupid and then claimed there was no rule against it or no sign posted. I swear we have a rule for "No Stabbing or Poking: Books or Magazines or People or Parrots with Anything."

If you tell someone he can't bring food into the library, he will call to have some food delivered to him in the library, food he did not bring in. So you have to amend the rule to say that he, or anyone acting on his behalf, can't bring in food.

If he can't deal drugs, you must also post that he can't buy drugs. You can't say "distribute drugs" because then one kid can't get an aspirin from his mom.

But the Power of One rules everything. Every library has some machine that was purchased because someone made a stink and now that machine sits idle, collecting dust. Either it was purchased because it was cutting edge technology that someone thought the library should have or maybe it met some accommodation, but the point is, it was purchased because one person demanded it.

We buy dozens or maybe hundreds of books that one person requests and so they circulate once and never again. About twenty of those books were bought for me because I love the world of Sid and Marty Krofft and I think you should, too. Librarians do this because we want to make everyone happy.

I don't have any solution for this; it's just an observation. Librarians are always trying to decide when to purchase new technology. Like when should you move to blu-ray in place of regular DVDs? When should you lend ereaders? When should you upgrade your operating systems or your version of Microsoft Office on the public computers?

My point is that you can do all the thinking you want. But no amount of thought or consideration will ever take priority over that one person who demands that the library do something that the library was probably never going to do.

And I'm not really against this when it happens. I just wonder about fairness and democracy. So many things are controlled by a very few people. Should we always do something just because a one person wants it?