The Library Paradox

Right now I’m reading French Women Don’t Get Fat, by Mireille Guiliano, which is all about how the French have cultivated many national habits that allow them to enjoy the pleasures of life in moderation. Embracing the simple joys of bread, chocolate, and produce in season is right up my alley, so I’ve been enjoying it. It is also an explanation of everyone’s favorite “French Paradox”, which is something along the lines of “those darn French people get to eat all that great food and yet they are also all so thin.” While enjoying life’s pleasures in moderation while eating smaller meals and walking has a lot to do with it, one also assumes that smoking may also have something to do with it.

Now here’s another paradox sweeping America this time– I like to call it the “Library Paradox”. The nation’s media outlets, particularly local newspapers, are all reporting a huge uptick in public library usage, for the obvious reason that it’s much cheaper to get books, movies, and music for free. We could pretend that library patrons aren’t immediately ripping the CDs and DVDs, and making color scans of the books, all to store on their computers. This however, is not true, and in these days of desktop terabyte harddrives, stealing is what people do. It’s far better in my mind, however, to steal from the publisher and not from the library.

In any event, there is another set of  library related news items being published, and that is that public libraries are having to cut staff, slash hours, and close branches due to economic conditions. Here in Illinois there were a number of library referenda on the ballots, and not one of them passed. While I can understand people not wanting to pay higher taxes, it creates an obvious paradox. Bad economy equals more library usage, while it also creates worse libraries. The Annoyed Librarian had a recent post surmising on libraries run as businesses, and said, “if anything is ‘too big to fail,’ it’s the American library” The AL, for those of you who don’t know, is largely satirical, but there’s a point to that. Public libraries in their current form were originally meant to allow the working man (now person, but man then) to have access to education and culture. With a lot more people subsisting on less money, that aspect of the library can’t disappear. I guess this is kind of a trite sentiment, but it’s not much more trite than saying that eating good dark chocolate makes people happy.