Many of you who know me in real life know that I am generally an advocate of the public library. You also know that I live in a city that supports three public library systems: The Queens Borough Public Library, which is the one I grew up using; the New York Public Library, which I used extensively when I was more mobile; and the Brooklyn Public Library, which I have become a huge fan of since moving to Brooklyn in 2000.
However, as time has gone on, I have had reason to become a bit less enamored of Brooklyn Public Library. I had no problem when they switched to a library card that could be read by computers, or when they added a feature to add money to your card, then made it impossible to pay overdue fines online unless they were over a certain amount, and only allowed you to pay them by placing money on your library card. I have had an ongoing issue with them over notification. They are supposed to let me know by either email or text message when a book I have put a hold on is ready for pickup. I have not, in the eight years I have lived at my present home, been able to get them to reliably do this. I have, in fact, given up on it, and just check my account every few days when I have a book on hold. I can even live with missing a lecture I would have very much liked to attend on December 10th because their newsletter announcing it didn’t arrive until the 11th.
However, I was recently subject to some of the worst service I have received from a library – and that includes all the college libraries and private libraries I have been involved with over the years. At some point the Brooklyn Pubic Library seems to have decided that their library cards would come with an expiration date. Not something I had ever encountered outside of one private library and a few college libraries, but not the end of the world. EXCEPT…Brooklyn Public never notified me of this change. I recently went to renew my library books online and got a message that my card was no longer valid. I headed to the “Ask a Librarian” section of their website, where I was informed that my card had expired, and I would have to go to an actual branch, with actual ID, in order to renew it. When I noted to the librarian that I am currently an invalid, without asking my age or anything, she asked if I wanted to sign up for Service to the Aging, with no explanation of what it was. When I pointed out that since I had no idea what it was, so I would not sign up for it, I was very rudely told that it would provide me books by mail, and that it would be the only option available to me once my card was renewed to make sure my card did not expire without notice.
After a few choice words to the librarian, I ended the chat and spoke to the roomie, who had – after all – been a librarian before she retired. She noted that yes, the library had changed to cards with expiration dates, and yes they were supposed to notify me before the card expired. We ended up schlepping to the local library and getting my card renewed, but I am still feeling unhappy with my library. While it’s true that I am certainly old enough to qualify for Service to the Aging, it was incredibly rude for the librarian to assume that without checking my age first. Nor am I happy that I missed a lecture I very much would have loved (about the Allan Sherman bio I recently read, by the author of said bio) simply because the library couldn’t be bothered to mail their newsletter in a timely manner (and – I note – this is far from the first time this has happened). Nor was I happy when they trashed their beautiful card catalog — without transferring all the books to the computer system first (in fact, various librarians I know have informed me that that task will never be finished, because there is not enough manpower to do so).
Will this stop me from being a fan of libraries in general? Not gonna happen. I love many aspects of my library, including the tremendous amount of e-books they have that can be borrowed (although I would like it a lot better if I didn’t need two different kinds of reader applications – 3M Cloud and Overdrive – in order to be sure I can read e-books from the library). Further, I think libraries are an important part of building strong communities. Also, as a deep and wide reader, I surely could not afford all the books the library gives me access to, and that is one of the most important reasons to support the library.
However, I have – as many of you know – a long-standing propensity for pointing out when the emperor is fooling himself as to his coverage; a propensity which seems to grow as I get older. Therefore, while I love my library, I find myself calling it out on its shortfalls.