A Bad Idea…

Let me preface this post with the following: I am SO glad that the people of this community have found a way to get books into the hands of those that want/need them; have come together to work on something very dear to them and important to any community; have found a way to make it work, albeit temporarily.

But the fact that the Central Falls Free Library in Central Falls, RI is running on an all volunteer basis scares the heck out of me.

The city went bankrupt in July but the library building fell under the financial support of the Adams Library Trust, meaning that there was still money for the building to stay in operation three afternoons a week from noon to 5:00pm. What had to go was the staff (and, I presume, new materials, but the article only states that “operating costs” were left in tact). In place of paid staff members are teenaged and senior citizen volunteers.

My problems with this situation are as follows:

1. The worker in the children’s department admittedly has no library experience and no knowledge of computers. How does she intend on helping child visitors locate books? Teaching early childhood reading skills to children and parents? Assist children with school research and homework? Work with teachers to ensure proper resources are available for school aged children? (Because if public libraries have no staff, it is safe to assume that the public schools have no librarians either, thereby giving the children of Central Falls NO professional library support system.)

2. The library defaulted on its OSL subscription so it has no way of knowing who has a card, who owes fines, who had what book out before the bankruptcy. The article states that the volunteers are signing people up for cards, but I wonder if this is being done on paper? On a Excel spreadsheet? Some free software on the Internet? Where is the security in all of that?! Who is ensuring that information doesn’t get hacked? ALA must be going bat snap crazy at the idea of that much personal information not being safeguarded by security software and signed documents from volunteers stating “I will not share, give to the police (without legal paperwork), or utilize this information in any way that is not directly library related.”

3. Volunteers are not trained professionals. Fine, I’ll say it…it does not take a Masters Degree to swipe a book under a barcode; to shelve a book in alphabetical or alpha-numeric order; to do online research; etc. FINE! But do you know what it does take a masters degree to do? Everything else that librarians do!! There are standards that must be upheld. Such standards are taught to us in Library Science school. And those who work in libraries who are not degree-holding librarians must go through extensive training and must promise to abide by these professional standards. It is safe to assume that these volunteers did not go through such training. Therefore, are they protecting the privacy of their customers? Are they letting personal feelings come into play when assisting a customer with locating a book in which they deem inappropriate? Are they having dinner time discussions, names included, of books that customers are checking out?

4. The people using the library are likely unaware that their privacy and security has been compromised. (Seriously, is there a disclaimer on the applications for cards that reads “We have no security standards, so don’t expect us to be able to safeguard your information”?

I love that books are getting into peoples hands, but this is a bad, bad way to do it. Rhode Island was one of the first and hardest hit in the economic crisis in 2008, and I feel terrible for their loss of teachers, libraries/librarians, jobs, etc. But I don’t think an all-volunteer staff with no professional oversight is the best way to solve the problem.

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