Thursday, September 22, 2011

Like carrying goals to Newcastle

Where to eat in Richmond? Looking out my window at the Holiday Inn Express, I can see the 3rd St. Diner, which is also on the short list of restaurants in the notebook in my room, so that's where I wind up.

It's not much in the way of interior decor--it's sort of shambling, with a bar, a line of two-seater tables, and a line of booths--but I like that the clientele is both families and working stiffs. In that way, it reminds me of Chattanooga's Rathskeller from my childhood.

I look behind the bar to see what bottles are on display and see that they have Newcastle Brown Ale, which is what I order. Then I look up at the screen over the bar and see that it's showing a soccer game between Aston Villa and--as luck would have it--Newcastle United. Score tied, 1-1.

Why am I in Richmond? I think the general idea is that my fellow library directors and I be treated to an opportunity for enlightenment. Along that line today's offering was a clarion call to re-invent the public library because e-books have exploded and Netflix--at the age of only 10--will probably soon only be streaming, and 75% of children have cellphones.

This is on my mind as Newcastle press Aston Villa with a pork chop special on order and only 30 minutes to play.

So, public libraries have to re-invent themselves.

Newcastle called for offsides.

I don't think they ever really knew what they were to start with. Not really. Ever heard of the Public Library Inquiry? It was a study carried out by the Ford Foundation (though the link says Carnegie) in the early 1950's to cut through public library PR rhetoric to see who really used public libraries. The conclusion was that maybe one adult in ten used libraries regularly.

Newcastle are spending a lot of time on Aston Villa's turf without much to show for it. Maybe another ale will help. Go Magpies!

Needless to say, the response in the library world to the inquiry was never favorable. The dress made us look fat. Or thin. Whatever. But we would by god have more than one in ten adults using our libraries because we would give them ... recreation!

Goal! No! Offsides again!

The presenter today asked how much of our circulation is made up of DVD checkouts. The percentage at my library is 40%, which is close to the national average. This isn't going to hold up, said the presenter, if the world is going to streaming video. It'll hold up, I think, if the borrowers are like the ones at my library: looking for ways to stretch a dollar. "Poor man's Blockbuster" is our nickname.

All these shots on goal. For nothing.

And, speaking of goals, where are they for the libraries? To re-invent ourselves, the presenter's examples indicate that libraries need to become Nintendo arcades and have band concerts once a week. Why? Did we never learn to dribble? Does no one think that self-directed education and lifelong learning are the sine qua non of public libraries?

Two minutes to play. A. Villa with a break, Newcastle goalie comes out for a stop, a shot is lobbed over his head, the goal is open ... but a defender slides it away at the last second. Whew!

Sine qua non. Really. I probably need to be put out to pasture. On a soccer pitch in the north of England. All this talk about changing things, and what do librarians do when they get together? They talk about per capita circulation. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours." And library boards are addicted to those numbers. Just keep 'em pumped up. (That's why those DVD's are so great.) Re-allocating budgets is an excellent idea ... for library directors who want to go looking for another job because their circ numbers plummeted.

The game is in its last throes. A peach cobbler appears. Coffee would be a good idea. There is an inverted bottle of Old Bushmill's behind the bar, so make it an Irish coffee. Apparently this is something that isn't frequently ordered at the 3rd St. Diner; the ingredients are in doubt; the call goes out: "Is there a librarian in the house?" As luck would have it ...

Time, gentlemen. An equality of goals. A tie.

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