Libraries becoming the new park.
Libraries thinking of heading towards the territory of gradually reducing staff in open spaces and replacing them with computer screens are in danger of becoming a park.
The fact is that the first world society prefer Doctor Google than a librarian for information. More and more spaces in libraries are being dedicated to events and programs, since they are new draw cards for attracting Millennials. As libraries’ budgets shrinks some more, we will see program managers and volunteers replacing library technicians and librarians in these spaces. Quite possibility, the physical collection will be removed from these spaces to make way for more tables and chairs. As per one public library has stated doing.
Libraries, like parks, are great for holding events. At parks, people are to free to organise their own events. BYO food and equipment. Only a few selective parks, the ones which have gates would require booking before use or ensuring you know the opening hours. Not all libraries have bookable meeting rooms, spaces, and halls, but some do. The difference between parks, parks with gates, and libraries is staffing. Rarely, do you see staff in parks, so when things do go wrong, there is no one you can seek immediate help with. The same could be said of library spaces which are not staffed on a regular basis.
Park use is generally autonomous, there is no one present to govern anyone and so it isn’t always well treated. Frequently, the toilets are left dirty and only cleaned on Mondays or less. This can be seen in Footscray Park. Vandalism being the most underrated issue for parks. During late December 2017, I saw teenagers kicking flowers and children ripping branches off trees and whacking tree trunks with it. Tree trunks were tagged with black ink. Many complacent adults argue this is normal part of growing up — to be violent towards plants. Could the same be said, if youth were violent towards furniture in the library? I think not.
Being autonomous has the potential to encourage mischievous behaviour. Take for example signage, used to guide people, but commonly vandalised at parks. They are either having ripped off from poles or have graffiti all over. None of the signs had a contactable number, so people could not call the office to report an issue or ask for assistance. The ‘no fishing’ sign was probably the only sign left alone. However, I saw men piss into the pond and at the bottom of trees. These actions and imagery sends out the wrong signal, that the place is uncared for and isn’t safe.
If public parks cannot control human behaviour, what about libraries without staff? Libraries are more complicated than parks, there are equipment and collections to consider. They need more care than plants. Also, not all libraries have a disposable book collection, despite this widely held assumption. To overcome mischief and people’s assumptions would be to educate the community on good ground rules and find champions to support these rules, and hope they would preach the rules to their peers.
If libraries do decide to shift gears and head towards autonomous style of operation, not only will we see a reduction in staff, we will see issues that once plagued parks, mentioned in this blog to start to infest libraries.