Pop-up blog popped

At the outset, TPLFans was billed as a pop-up blog. It would last as long as it needed to.

Aaand this is more or less it. I am just a bit tired of feeling as though I have to act like a journalist every time I go to the library. Plus librarians are watching my every move and trying to pepper me with gossip. I already feel enough like a decadent intellectual parasite.

I still plan on reporting from library reopenings for a while, but it’s time to monetize this thing. How terribly crass? Surely every public-library supporter should take a perpetual vow of poverty in order to meet the moral standard of somebody with a steady job?

This thing cost nothing so far (except actually it did), so why should it bring in anything? Well, because. I says to a librarian, I says “Why the hell am I not working for the library?” “Good question.”

Who’s a bigger fan? Listen, companies hire the hackers who break into their systems. Companies hire their worst enemies. I’m the library’s biggest fan. And for the love of God, don’t try the line that I’m way too sarcastic to work for a public institution. I’ve done it before, and besides, have you ever talked to a librarian? I’m a pussycat.

What I have in mind is a program of online and in-person outreach. More exactly, meta-outreach: Training all 99 branches on online and in-person outreach. Or training the trainers. The Web site is about to be relaunched and every branch is getting wifi. We’ve got to stop hiding inside the gated community of “the Facebook.”

There’s a plan here, though I’m sparing you the details. It has nothing to do with usability testing or anything like that. And it’s a time-limited thing – three months tops.

Don’t sit there panicking about it. A cup of coffee would be a good place to start. Then we’d have to deal with how to hire an outsider in a city climate where every consultant is viewed, ante facto, as an AIG-calibre fraudster. The smaller the contract, the worse the scrutiny. What I’m saying is you have a full catalogue of excuses at your disposal.

But if you can’t hire your fans, especially fans with actual legitimate qualifications, then who are you gonna hire? Deskilled staff?

See you at the Thorncliffe reopening.


Deskilled staff: Is that like deveined shrimp?

I walked out of Danse Danse Évolution and saw a couple of guys handing out flyers. Efficient library outreach! I thought. Nope. UNION!

Leaflet: The Library Board’s vision: Longer hours, without librarians and skilled full-time staff. Fewer reference desks. More deskilled part-time staff with few or no benefits

I must say, the library union isn’t doing a very good job of scaremongering.

Unions are great sometimes and lousy other times, and neither of those things some other times. That’s my opinion. It’s probably your opinion. Only right-wing assholes think unions are never a good idea, and not even union stalwarts think they always are. (Be honest.)

I talked to the guy who handed me this leaflet. When I told him I write this blog, he took a quarter-step back and started treating me like I was radioactive. “Yes,” he said warily. “I have heard about it.” Well, good – you shoulda.

The leaflet makes the claim that the TPL Board “wants to… stay open to midnight with no professional librarians and many more part-time staff [and] get rid of reference desks.” I have asked around and concluded this is wilful exaggeration, reiterated in a union blog post.

I was having a hard time imagining Jones, Todmorden, Davenport, and St. Lawrence all staying open till midnight. I was having that trouble because what may be in the cards is keeping the Reference Library and a very few district libraries open to midnight Mondays through Fridays.

Seriously: Every branch open till witching hour seven days a week? Yorkville and the Reference Library, exactly one block apart? The branches inside strip malls? The ones who have problems with crime and gun violence, like Shchuka and Silverthorn? Branches TPL keeps trying to close, like Queen Saulter? Please.

With a city-wide budget deficit of $300 mil next year? Please.

And if the union notes that most TPL staff are women (what exactly is wrong with that?), isn’t it axiomatic that this mostly-female staff will refuse to work till midnight out of safety concerns? (The leaflet and Web site identify their authors as “the women and men” – in that order – “of TPLWU Local 4948.”)

Then there’s the pesky problem of wording and what it reveals about the library’s biases in favour of those who made it through library-school boot camp. The leaflet warns us of “[m]ore deskilled part-time staff with few or no benefits.” Deskilled staff? Staff whose skills have been removed? Is that like deveined shrimp? Dealcoholized beer?

Do we already have too many of these deskilled people? Because who would want more of them, right?

It’s not like you need a master’s in library science (MLS) to check out a back issue of Maxim or a compact disc at 11:30 at night. (Such a task is distinct from the career-path jobs the union has mixed into this discussion.) I know for a fact that some librarians hate checking materials out, or hate doing only that for long periods of time (at, say, Lillian H. Smith). RFID self-checkout is not a bad deal all of the time even if it sucks in other ways.

Parts of Robarts Library at UofT are already open around the clock six days a week. I think it isn’t a huge stretch of the imagination for the biggest library system in the world, in the nation’s biggest city, to open a few branches late at night. The Reference Library, Gladstone, North York – sure. Maybe not all the district branches, since some of them are dumps, like Northern District. Maybe branches in priority neighbourhoods. Sure.

But if we’re talking about expanding hours, here’s my wishlist:

  • No branch open fewer than six days a week. Hence no Monday or Friday closings for Saulter and Todmorden.
  • Branches open Sundays do so year-round (as was said to be the case, but isn’t, at Malvern), even on the balmiest summer days when the Protestant ethic insists we be outside enjoying the nice weather and not cooped up inside like some nerd.
  • No branches close at 6:00. Stay open till 8:00 or 8:30 or don’t bother. (Even Gladstone closes at 6:00 on Fridays in the summer.)
  • No branches close early because it’s snowing out (my direct experience on two separate occasions).

The union might aid its cause by providing much less hyperbolic and much more detailed information to the public. Besides, most people aren’t gonna be scared off by the idea of a library that’s open late at night. Even the attempt at scaremongering isn’t working. Please try smarter.

Danse Danse Évolution

For Nuit Blanche, somebody had the great idea to give dance lessons in the Reference Library all night.

Black chick dances in green-lit atrium

We showed up halfway through the Disco segment, only to find no disco music (just a recent dance number) and very little free-dance time. But the kids were quite gamely learning the dance steps. Tons of girl–girl couples of the platonic variety, but no scandalous pairings of guys, which in any event leads to the difficult discussion of who gets to be the man. They get enough of that every night at bedtime.

Ultra-delightful. How are they gonna top this next year? (Without wondering who gets to be the man?)