Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Problem with DVDs.

I was watching Apocalypto last night on a copy that I had checked out from the library, after months spent on the waiting list. Everything is fine, no skips or jumps, until 1 hour and 8 minutes (+/-) into the movie. Then, the DVD stalls, skips ahead 1 minute, stalls again, skips ahead 20 minutes, stalls again, and skips ahead another 30 minutes. This process took about 30 seconds. Luckily, I was able to remove the disc, clean it, and finish watching to movie without any more problems. This is not always the case.
DVDs are too sensitive in their current form to provide a shelf life that justifies their cost to the library. Sure, they check out exponentially more times than most books, but only if they find a way to escape the scratches. A library with, many times a day, check out a DVD that cannot function fully and properly. Would they check out a book that is missing pages? Or completely water damaged? No. The difference is that library staff can much more easily spot books and other media that are damaged, whereas detecting damaged DVDs is more art than science. Also, it seems as if patrons have come to expect nothing more from their library (beggars can't be choosers?) and fail to inform staff of inferior products and services. Again, they don't take this same course with books. What makes DVDs so different?
First of all, patrons probably understand the fragile nature of DVDs much better than they do of books. I'm sure they own many DVDs scratched beyond playability. Also, libraries can purchase books with special bindings intended to put up with wear and tear of library use. Library format DVDs (to the best of my knowledge) do not exist. Perhaps the material used to make scratch resistant glasses should be employed to make scratch resistant DVDs. This would make them more expensive, but at $29.99 now, would twice the price for 4 times the life be a bad deal?

The real solution, of course, was murdered by the
Digital Millennium Copyright Act. I don't want to sound all crazy about works of art belonging to the public and all, but libraries have proven to be an exception. Legally, libraries can reproduce DVDs in order to keep the original copy in the "archives" and circulate the duplicate. If this was the case, as soon as the duplicate is damaged, libraries could throw it away and replace it immediately at very little cost. Though this is legal, it is illegal to even own a machine or software able to bypass the copy protecting encryption (even in the most basic and useless forms)that is standard on nearly every DVD produced. It is actually illegal to even attempt to find out how to perform such a bypass.
What I guess I am saying is... I don't know. I hate it when I can't watch a movie I got from the library because the same format that gives superior picture and sound is too fragile for viable everyday use. It's not a matter of treating them better when you check them out (well, it kind of is... but that's another blog entirely). It's a matter of a library buying something they expect to break, with full knowledge that it won't last long, simply to have it. What a waste of money. Want to read another blog? Go back to the start of this one and replace the "DVD"s with "paperback books."

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Two Types of Librarians (Of Which I Have NEVER Met Either)

In an effort to fully flesh out the classification of the different human elements found in public library service, I have decided to define types as I identify them, leaving the complications associated with establishing an in depth system to the side for a moment.

I decided to start with two types of librarians, which I am lucky enough to only have witnessed at other libraries and never had to work with...

The first group are known (by me) as the SQUATTERS. They want to stay where they are and not change a thing. They have spent years of their hardest work (?) to prepare procedures and a corporate culture that ensures no change is possible. They only thing that will dislodge them is time combined with a concerted effort by their successors. The squatters were not always this way, however. They used to desire to change, to do things their way. At some point, they realized that this isn't all it's cracked up to be, and they found, magically, that the spot they were in at that moment was perfect. They then spend their careers trying to keep it that way. They kill innovation via the informal filibuster. They also know every detail of every policy, either because they wrote it or they don't like it. Ironically, their e-mails can often be identified by extremely ornate backgrounds, fonts, theme music, and other HTML goodies.

Go figure.

The other type to define today are the
IDEALISTS. These folks are either fresh out of library school, or have recently been reintroduced to the public sector. They expect a library to function smoothly, with rational thought at the reason for rules and policy. They are still blind to the reality of their positions as babysitters and movie finders. They are still waiting for the opportunity to enlighten the masses. They wait so long that helping some high school kid do his homework by showing him how an index works actually passes as a victory.
Librarians can remain idealists forever. They can also, after years of fruitless struggle, morph into a squatter. A third option is that they ride the belief that they can make a difference all the way into a management position. This is how they become the nemesis of the squatter. Once in management, they find that they are too busy listening to the complaints of squatters and the ideas of the new idealists to get anything done other than scheduling.
The other option for idealists? Complete burnout and profession change.
They can be identified by the tired smile on their faces and the frustrated tone of their e-mails.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Inner Workings of the Public Library Part I

The Life Cycle of a Public Library Book

I have taken it upon myself to detail the life cycle of a public library book in order to form a response to a frequently asked question: "Whach yall do wit dose ode books and stuff?"

If a library book were alive, its point of conception would be what is known as the ordering phase. A librarian is courted by publishers and vendors via trade and advertisement publications. With the gloss of the cover like a twinkle in the eye, the black and white pictures of the book like a lover's promise, the publisher's review like a boastful suitor's speech, the librarian cannot help but fall in love.
(Much like real life, however, the librarian can order a book simply to fill a need. The resulting purchase is usually made after the librarian is met with selection list lacking anything better. In fact, this is much more often the case... at least with library books.)
The next stage is known as processing, or, sometimes, pre-processing. This is the equivalent of a naming ceremony, the confirmation, and the circumcision. The book is stamped with the name of the library to ruin its chances at ever being considered valuable. Thus a promising first edition is forced to serve the public good. A security device is installed, and a sticker to aid location is attached. The book, freshly aware of its place in the library, is now ready for introduction to its public.
From here the book can follow along two very different paths that lead to a shared end. The path of the unpopular book is one of dust and inertia. Occasionally someone will check it out, but not enough to warrant the shelf space it occupies. This book will be "weeded" due to limited number of checkouts. An alternative to this would be that the books inertia carries it in obscurity until someone notices the information it provides is outdated or proven incorrect. Then it is weeded.
The second path is one of extreme popularity. The book actually checks out so much that it needs to be removed from the collection, often before most patrons even know the library owns it. This counterintuitive measure must be taken. Books that check out at a higher than average rate are likely to be damaged through use. Broken spines, loose and missing pages, water (coffee, urine, kool-aid) damage, eaten by a dog (baby), stolen, vandalized, or other forms of destruction await these books. Since most of these titles are ordered in multiples, these books are weeded and often not replaced. Not thanked for their sacrifices, these books disappear quietly, with little more than a gasp caused by their condition as a eulogy.
(I shall not attempt to judge which is the more depressing path. Instead, I will find solace in the fact that books are inanimate objects that possess no feelings or desires whatsoever.)
After the book is weeded, it again finds itself on one of two possible paths. The first path is reserved for books whose condition may allow them further service. These books are typically sold for pennies on the dollar to help fund the library. One final sacrifice for those who didn't already give everything to their duty. You can find these in "Friends of the Library" book sales. If you buy a book that has a library stamp on it, paired with a "withdrawn" stamp, this was its past.
The books that are too broken to sell for two bits are recycled. By recycled, as a matter of remaining truthful, I mean thrown away. These books are usually deposited into black, thick trash bags so that no one sees them during their final journey. For some reason, people can get upset when they discover that their library destroys books. (I believe I have explained enough so that it is understood that the library doesn't destroy books, it simply removes books that have been destroyed.)
The vacant shelf space left by these books must be filled, which brings us back full circle.