According to the Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML) website, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland (D) is poised to eliminate $200 million from the Public Library Fund over the next two years.

The CML dives right in with the threat – if you allow them to be de-funded and refuse to act, they’ll be…

closing branches, halting new books and materials, and shutting down programs and services that are so vital to our community!

Sounds terrible – if traveling to a building to look at stacks of books, magazines, and other materials nobody is reading were the only way to satisfy their mission.

What is the CML mission?  Well, it’s not to staff warehouses of obscure and un-used materials gathering dust – that’s what used bookstores are for. Instead, it’s this…

At Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML), our mission is "to promote reading and guide learning in the pursuit of information, knowledge, and wisdom."

In 1922 one visionary made it big after the following realization…

We have found in buying materials that it is not worthwhile to buy for other than immediate needs. 

If transportation were perfect and an even flow of materials could be assured, it would not be necessary to carry any stock whatsoever.

That would save a great deal of money, for it would give a very rapid turnover and thus decrease the amount of money tied up in materials.

The visionary was Henry Ford, and the concept was Just-in-time (JIT) inventory strategy.

Over the past decade, the transportation part of the issue has faded. Broadband makes the flow of materials so seamless that instant-streaming of the highest quality of HD video content will be offered commercially this autumn via Xbox Live. Let’s not forget that providers like Netflix and Hulu are offering streaming video today.

Consumers can access vast libraries of audio content via services like that put CML’s exhaustive collection to shame.

And if you love reading text, services like Project Gutenberg, Safari, and Books24x7 have allowed users to take entire full-text-searchable libraries with them for years.

Contrast that to the inequitable library system we have today.  We’re forced to pay for materials nobody is reading to sit idle on shelves – meanwhile popular materials have long waiting lists (want Christmas music from CML? Reserve it today and you’ll have it in time for next July!)

People in urban areas have a much wider selection of materials – and greater availability than rural communities relying on “Bookmobile” outreach from urban centers or smaller local libraries.

Broadband distribution doesn’t solve all problems – the poor will still have issues with access – but the nearest library would be at the nearest computer terminal, not miles away.  Inexpensive Netbooks and other devices like Amazon’s Kindle would be adequate for displaying most information. We could even make better use of public school computer resources that could be made available to the community during off-hours.

Best of all, the CML and other libraries are already offering digital on-demand catalogs that allow libraries to pool resources and satisfy unpredictable demand for materials that in the physical realm are expensive to store, sort, and replace due to wear and tear.

If we’re going to insist on government-guided “pursuit of information, knowledge, and wisdom.” – let’s take an intelligent and cost-effective approach to achieving the mission.

Leave a Reply