Friday, August 27, 2010

Beware: Rant Ahead

I had a Groupon to the Olive Branch Cafe in downtown OKC, so Mark and I went there for lunch today. Go there if you like Mediterranean food. The decor is early 1980s but the food is great! The waiter/busboy/cashier guy said there was going to be another online coupon coming up next week. I think he said it would be on LivingSocial. Tip: If you hurry and go to the site today you too can join the 103 thrifty folks who have snatched up a coupon for a Brazilian wax for $25. Wait, I just double checked and it's TWO Brazilian waxes for $25. So I guess you can...bring a friend? Awkward.

After the nice lunch, we had an hour or so to spare before going to a movie so we walked a few blocks to the downtown branch of the library. We each had a short list of things to discuss and it has proven to be helpful to put a time and date on the calendar and get out of the house for these little meetings. Otherwise they never happen. We didn't have anything earth-shattering to talk about - just mundane stuff like finances - and the library has nice tables and a nice sunny atrium. Good idea, right? Wrong.

Is it politically incorrect to complain that the homeless population has taken over a really nice facility? I was so very disappointed. Our quiet discussion was suddenly interrupted by a man yelling obscenities and throwing chairs. Followed by more yelling while being evicted by the police assigned to the library. The guy came back for a few more "words", punches were thrown, then just as a class of uniformed elementary school children got off their bus and lined up to enter the library the guy was on the ground with a police officer yelling threats about tazing. The offender was eventually subdued, handcuffed, and hauled out of the library. And I thought talking too loudly was the worst offense in a library.

I hope that's not a daily event, for the library staff's sake. They looked pretty unimpressed though. This morning I read about a proposed four percent increase in pay for library employees. I certainly hope they get it. Maybe they should add hardship pay for those who work in the downtown branch. Our informal survey showed that a minimum of 2 of every 3 downtown library patrons were homeless, judging by the lack of bathing and the accompanying plastic bags filled with belongings.

While stepping gingerly around the prone and soon to be cuffed man, I noted a poster detailing the library's code of conduct. It was a very long list of behaviors that are banned at the library. Among the most notable were rules against using obscenities, hitting others, throwing things, using the restrooms to bathe or do laundry, and entering the library if you have a communicable disease or lice - all behaviors we witnessed today. Well, except the communicable disease and lice part. Those are difficult to observe, but I can say we did not sit on any of the upholstered chairs.

Do I sound like some uppity suburbanite beotch? Mostly I was dissappointed and maybe a little nostalgic. We used to love taking our daughters to the library. We would all find a stack of good books and a chair and enjoy an hour of free and peaceful entertainment on a hot summer day. It's a school day, so of course there were very few children there today, but where were the college students, the retired folks, the mothers with small children, the employees from surrounding businesses stopping by to grab a good book on their lunch hour?

They were at Barnes and Noble or at home or in their office reading from their laptop, iPad, or Kindle, that's where. Is the public library going the way of bus and train stations and some public parks? Can libraries survive in the age of internet and electronics? Is the line between the poor and middle class being drawn at public vs. commercial?

Dan Walters is director of the Las Vegas-Clark County Public Library in Nevada. Quoted in an article for the Library Journal, Walters believes 'People liked hanging out at Borders and Barnes & Noble more than their local library. What does that say to us?... There's obviously something about the ambiance [at bookstores] that they find appealing.'

After today I'd say "ambiance" is definitely a key component to a successful library experience.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

At least the kids can check "cultural awareness training" off this year's educational goals. Nice to get that out of the way so early in the year. :-)