Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Those damn kids...

There's an article on NPR right now about music downloading. Well, to be more precise, there's a response by David Lowery to an article written by a college student about music downloading. David raises a number of objections to file sharing and illegal downloading (some of which are really on point, and some of which, I think, seriously miss the mark). I think that David's main points--that musicians deserve to be compensated for their work and should have control over their work--are pretty solid. In particular, I agree that musicians--indeed, all artists--deserve fair compensation for their work. Of course, I don't think that fair compensation and the easy access of music sharing are necessarily mutually exclusive. There's every reason to believe that file sharing and downloadable music should make it easier to get money directly into the hands of the people creating the work. Of course, that's bad news for record labels who have a vested interest in making sure that there are barriers between the people actually making music and the people listening.

But that's actually not my beef with the article.

My main point of contention is with the contempt that David and many of the commentors treat young people. Can we not have a conversation about college aged or younger people without treating them like total shit? I know, I know, this is something of a generational thing--every generation looks down on the generations after them, right? But, seriously, this is David Lowery we're talking about... this is the guy responsible for Cracker. You know, the band with the song "I'll be with you girl, like being low. Hey, hey, hey, like being stoned." His bread and butter was slackers and stoners.

Admittedly, the worst part of the disdain comes from the commenters, who are quick to take his letter about the damage that free music downloading does to artists, and turn it into another "damn those kids these days!" pile on. After all, everyone knows that kids these days are part of "an entitled, 'gimme that now, 'i do it because i can' culture". Or this: "This is an extremely ENTITLED generation whose values include trying to have what they want on demand with no consequence to themselves–zero concern for any but the self, no ability to postpone gratification and so little empathy, appreciation, wonder and love for art–in a word: Narcissism."
This isn't "People who steal are being shitty." This is a blatant and thorough dismissal of an entire generation over song downloading.

I just hate that line of argument so much, but I see it all the time. What is it about getting older that turns some people into such grumps about young people? I'm in my thirties, and while I'd love to think that I'm still young at heart, I know that I'm not really part of the group "young people"; I'm only a few years short of being twice as old as I was when I graduated high school (I'm not sure why, but that milestone--being out of school as many years as I was in school--is really important to me). Still, people who I knew when they were young people end up griping and complaining about "kids these days."

I hear complaints about how kids these days are so rude (from people who I know for a fact were total shits as kids). I have colleagues who complain that "kids don't read anymore" despite the fact that our children's and teen rooms are amongst the busiest areas in the library.

All of us were once young people. I'm guessing that most of us had to deal with adults and older folks looking down on us and dismissing us because of our ages. I know that I had people assume the worst because I was young, and I can't believe I was the only one. Why are we still perpetuating that? I don't expect to "get" youth culture, but I don't see any reason why I should be shitting on it, either. I came from the generation that gave us N*Synch and Pogs and Vanilla Ice. Who the hell are we to judge?

Friday, June 08, 2012

The cost of applying fines...

..a mother with her three young children explains that coffee accidentally spilled on the picture book while she was reading to her youngest daughter. Her daughter was excited and knocked the cup out of her hand. The clerk takes the picture book, opens it, examines the pages and points out the damaged areas to the mother. 'We have to charge you for this, you know, we can't repair it. We will ha...ve to order another copy and when we reorder there is a processing charge as well.'

The mother again explains that this was an accident, and adds that she can't afford to pay for the book. The clerk takes the book to the librarian at the reference desk, where the book is again examined and the book's circulation statistics are checked. The librarian and clerk discuss publicly the best course of action: perhaps waive the processing fee, perhaps talk to the patron about a payment plan, or perhaps negotiate a one-time payment of half the price of the book.

And while this is happening, the mother waits at the checkout desk. Her embarrassment is visible to everyone in the area. Her face is flushed, and she has gathered her three children close to her. Her eyes don't lift from the counter top. She is quiet and still. When the clerk returns and discusses payment options the mother says again that she cannot afford to pay for the book.

And so, while this mother should be applauded for bringing her children to the library and encouraged to continue reading to her children, she is instead publicly humiliated and made to confess over and over that she cannot afford to pay for the picture book. Will this family be comfortable returning to the library?

If the library does not charge for the damaged book, it loses about $25.00. When the library fails to recognize situations where charging replacement costs means losing library patrons, it loses the opportunity to participate in the life of the patron and the patron's family. By choosing to make a $25.00 replacement cost more significant than the role the institution can play in the social, developmental, and community life of the family, the library forfeits its role as a community and literacy advocate and leader.

It will cost the library more than $25.00 to convince this mother to return to the library. It will cost the library more than $25.00 to persuade this mother that the library is a welcoming community place willing to meet her needs and support her family. It will cost the library more than $25.00 to mount literacy programs aimed at her children, who will not benefit from regular library visits and programs. And when these children are adults, it will cost the library more than $25.00 to convince them that the library is a welcoming and supportive place for their children.
Breaking Barriers: Libraries and Socially Excluded Communities by Annette DeFaveri
This sort of thing happens a lot more than it should in libraries, frankly. I'm not sure why it is, but I've seen it happen firsthand. Hell, I've probably done it, myself, without meaning to. I work in a library where I'm completely empowered to waive fines without fear of censure or reprimand. As far as I know, I can waive fines for just about any reason I want. When I worked at the circ desk more often, I probably waived or reduced fines more often than I enforced them. You can't waive all fines all the time, or you negate the benefit of having a fine based system (which is, you know, to encourage people to return the damn materials on time so that other patrons can access them), but there's no reason to enforce the fines 100% of the time, either.
We shouldn't need to think about it in terms of the cost to get a patron to return, but it's good to be able to do so, since there are some people who wouldn't get it otherwise.