Magazine article American Libraries

The Most Important People in the Library Profession

Magazine article American Libraries

The Most Important People in the Library Profession

Article excerpt

When I reflect back on all the people I have met in the public-library arena, the most valuable individuals I have worked with were not reference librarians or catalogers or children's librarians or even administrators. No, it has always been my experience that the people who are most important to the future of the public library are trustees. Actually, I should qualify that to read "good trustees," because other than a rude reference librarian or a children's librarian who hates children it's hard to think of anyone more destructive to the library cause than a bad trustee.

This is an important distinction to make because there are only two types of trustees - good ones and bad ones. Bad trustees are easy to spot because they have gotten on the board for any of the following reasons:

1. To get fine-free status.

2. To pad their resumes.

3. To get their friends or relatives on the library payroll.

4. To get the circ clerk who was rude to them fired.

5. To get the library to subscribe to an obscure but expensive periodical that only they will read.

6. To be in a better position to date the head librarian.

7. To cut taxes.

8. To have Daddy's Roommate removed from the shelves.

9. To satisfy some vague sense of civic responsibility in the most painless and controversy-free way possible.

I have worked with many bad trustees, and, yes, some of these people have been real jerks who have selfish ulterior motives (like reasons 1-6); but for the most part bad trustees are not bad people. Even the tax cutters and the moral crusaders (#7 and #8) have the best of intentions, and at least they have some passion for the library, even if it is misdirected.

The real enemies of the public library movement are the passionless people who come under reason number 9. Like Dante's Inferno, there is a special ring in the lower, hotter regions of Library Hell reserved for those trustees who are indifferent to their cause. Many number-niners are nice, polite people. In fact, they are too nice and too polite. The problem with them is that they have no fire in their bellies. They are simply lukewarm bodies sitting in chairs at the board table that could be occupied by hot-blooded warrior trustees who are willing to fight for every nickel and dime that the library needs. …

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