A patron came up to me one day and asked if we could maybe turn the air conditioning up. Being as it was August and Mississippi can get in triple digits, I said that would be a fine idea, could she wait for a day or two?
The library I worked for was large and open concept, meaning that it circulated air like a breathing dragon. Because the system maintaining the fragile ecosystem was too complex to be left to just a box on a wall any idiot could adjust, the company that maintained the A/C controlled it. On those hot days when the air handlers could not keep up, we would call the company and ask them to please make the air not so boily.
The technician would say, "they did it again, huh?" and say that we should be okay within a day or two.
Here's the reason: they were located a hundred miles north of us in Jackson. For those of you with regular climates not of the subtropical variety, that may give you a shrug. In south Mississippi, they might as well have been on moon. I have been on my porch eating ice cream in my boxer shorts while reading reports that it was snowing in Jackson. They would regulate our temperature based on theirs, and everything would go to hell because as nice and as fancy as those air handlers are, it's still a big ass building full of books that act as insulation and warm bodies. If we have an active story time, we could kill a grandma who just came in for a story time.
I tell you all that to tell you this: corporations do not give two craps about local needs.
An article ran on Forbes calling for Amazon to pick up all the public libraries in the nation and save the poor taxpayers millions. This in a land where public library use has risen as the divide between the haves and the have nots has widened. Sure, a few libraries have gone private like Santa Clarita and on paper have benefited, but the questions remain.
One argument I hear is that librarians get too comfortable. I can attest that while searching for my own position, it seems many older librarians are clinging to their positions. They could be doing it for love of the game or to build up that state retirement or to stay relevant. Private companies would force competition and evaluations for library jobs, causing the the nice lady who knew every book you ever checked out to be replaced with a library school graduate with dreams of dropping a 3D printer in every study room. Both are good for the profession and causing these two to compete hurts everyone.
More than that, people do not think about what private companies would do with all the information libraries handle. And I am not talking just the addresses and phone numbers of everyone in the local community or the circulation data on the books. I mean you.
There's an old saying that "if you do not pay for the product, you are the product." That great app you downloaded to make funny faces into? It is tracking where your phone is and what you search and sending you advertisements based on that. Public libraries might be the last place where this is not true.
But what if that little blue haired lady behind the counter went evil? She remembers all the books you checked out and when. She calls your mom and says "Well, Clara certainly has been checking out a lot of werewolf porn instead of studying for the SATs." She tells your dad, "We see that Clara has been looking up books on domestic abuse and long term effects of joblessness, are you having problems at home?" That little blue haired lady who knows everything about you, including what you do on library computers, then tries to sell you a set of steak knives at the circulation desk because you want to check out a cookbook.
Here's the real question: who cares? I mean that with genuine, honest sincerity. Who out there cares and pays attention? Who notices and tries to help? More often, people seem to think the corporations do, but Amazon never helped me with my homework.
Now if you will excuse me, I have a phone call to make. It is supposed to be winter sometime around December and that air conditioner company should be notified well in advance.
Image by Brian Snelson