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Like Captain Tight-Pants, but less sexy

April 26, 2011

It is my hope that when people look at me they see a public library. I’m pretty sure they do, or at least one guy in my Information Architecture class does. After a recent class discussion in which I rambled about public libraries again, this fellow told me he thought it was neat that I knew so much about public libraries. This made me feel pretty fantastic, because they are what I love. If I’m not yet Captain Public Library in people’s minds, I should at least be Captain Fair Use considering how often I refer to myself as such. That’s not too far removed from Captain PL.

Growing up, I knew libraries through my experience with my school’s library and the local public library. As time went on, my main contact with libraries became just the public library. I’m sure I’ve said it before, but when talking about libraries, my default frame of reference is public libraries, despite having used multiple sorts. This internship has certainly cemented this default. It was already pretty firm, but despite a couple librarians reminding me that this is not where the money or fame is, my default has just gotten firmer. My time at FCDL, while responsible for planting the idea that this could actually be my career, wasn’t long enough to clue me in to some of the inner workings that I’ve gained more insight into in my time at MCPL.

I didn’t need reminding of the importance of public libraries, but if anything was going to do it, it would be Indiana’s unemployment filing situation. The filing of unemployment is now only available online. The first day you can file is Sunday, which is when most of our patrons try to do it. Here’s the thing. The unemployment office isn’t open Sunday and I don’t think they have public computers anyway. WorkOne, which is another source for the unemployed and I think has computers, isn’t open Sunday. Both tell people to come to the library if they need a computer. This is usually fine, but for about a month last year their site crashed every Sunday under the onslaught of unemployed traffic. Whenever someone tries to tell me that any other public service is more important than public libraries, which is something I’ve heard more than once at SLIS, I trot that little gem out. They generally don’t have a comeback for that one.

That’s just one of the things I’ve encountered at MCPL that’s reinforced my interest in public libraries. There’s plenty more. I’m not sure I hate to say it, but the main thing that’s done the reinforcing is the technology situation. Tax season too, but to a lesser degree. (It is so much easier to get through tax season when you can offer patrons free tax help sessions hosted at the library instead of just an 800 number.) Mostly it’s the public computers and computer literacy classes that we offer. The unemployment situation suffers from the myth of access. They think they can do things that way because everyone has a computer. Only they don’t. I firmly believe that public libraries are at the forefront of solving the myth of access. If nothing else, that’s what will keep me cemented in public libraries. Also, that’s actually a new thing I gained from my time at SLIS and MCPL. I had inklings of an interest in computer literacy from my FCDL time, but it’s become more ingrained recently, especially as it relates to older adults. It seems that’s going to be my public library niche, which plays right into my role as Captain Fair Use.

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