During last week’s class, we spent a great deal of time discussing a recent local library controversy. The Ann Arbor District Library has been making the local news lately (check out one of the articles here) because of their concern that the city of Ann Arbor wants to build a park adjacent to the library. The library’s concern stems from the library’s problem with heroin and alcohol use in the library. The director and many others worry that the problems the library are already facing will simply travel outdoors to the park, possibly endangering park users. The director, Josie Parker, is concerned that many in Ann Arbor are just not paying attention to this problem, which is certainly a problem in the library, but also a larger reflection of the community’s problem at large. (She gave a really great interview, which can be found here.)
The discussions we had, in our blogging groups, were interesting because they brought up a lot of important issues surrounding the library’s place in the community. AADL spends an astounding $250,000 on security (for some libraries, that’s their entire budget), so it’s clear that the security of the people in the library is something that AADL takes very seriously. People of Ann Arbor seem shocked that these problems are occurring, but in reality, the problems are right in their own backyards. AADL has been handling the problem internally, but if the park is built, the problems AADL are experiencing will most likely just move there as well, and AADL can’t police that area, too.
I think one of the most interesting parts of the discussion involved one of the quotes the director gave in her article. She stated that while some think that the homeless population at the library causes the library a lot of its problems, in reality, most of the library’s problems come from those that are well-educated, well-fed, and well-housed, and their entitled and privileged attitudes. I thought it was a great point to bring up because the stereotype is that the homeless population is the root of the problems, and that’s simply not true.
Since we’ve been talking about the ALA Code of Ethics so much lately, we also discussed how to use the Code in relation to AADL’s problems. My opinion was that I love the Code of Ethics, but the director can’t stand up in a board meeting and say, “Well, according to the ALA Code of Ethics…” and expect that people will take that Code as seriously as librarians do. However, like someone else pointed out, the director and other librarians involved can certainly use the Code as a way to direct how they are personally going to handle it. Many of the statements in the Code do apply to this situation, and while Josie Parker can’t get up and say that in the board meeting, it’s possible she can consider the Code when attempting to make her decisions.
Talking about these problems are incredibly interesting, obviously, but also incredibly useful. Drugs and alcohol are a problem no matter a person’s socioeconomic status, and while bigger cities tend to have bigger problems, little tiny libraries will have their issues as well, and it’s good to be aware of those problems as well as take note as to how the problems are handled. I know that the library I worked at occasionally had problems like AADL’s (although certainly not nearly the scale they have) and I’m from a smallish town. These problems always shocked me, and I was always really careful in studying how the head librarian handled it, because I know that someday, I will have to as well.