Re: Public libraries and video collections (long)

Andrea Slonosky (
Thu, 9 Dec 1999 13:55:22 -0800 (PST)

I worked in a large urban public library until quite recently, and spent a
lot of time tracking lost or vandalized items, and deciding whether or not
to replace items that had already gone missing several times.

It seems to me that the main motivation in collection development, at least
on the parts of some public library administrators is to get bodies into
libraries, boost use and statistics, and prove to money granting powers that
the library does serve the public, and is worth funding. The general feeling
is that communities who are using libraries at all, in any form, are going
to be better off than those who are not. Is there a better way to bring
people into the library than by offering them free movies?

With this kind of objective, it is not surprising that libraries are trying
to market themselves as an alternative to B& N, etc. This results in the
acquisition of materials which are popular to the greatest number of people
who will use the library. In some areas this means that the library
maintains a collection of 'Bollywood' films, or perhaps the latest and
greatest horror films.

If the policy is successful, and more people come to the library, more
items circulate more frequently and are at a higher risk of never coming
back. This then results in a reluctance to purchase high priced, high
quality items, not necessarily on the part of the individual librarian, but
on the part of the institution as a whole. The problems in retrieving
'lost' items are perceived as bad pr for the library, rather than as an
effort by a public institution to recover the public's property. There is
also the hard fact that what many people want to see are the action flicks,
which are cheap to buy and replace. The beautifully produced, sensitive
documentary/art films discussing situations many of our users would
otherwise have no conception of are seen as a waste of money and space. It
is a cynical attitude, and as I understand it, not quite what a public
library is about.

I would be interested to hear other opinions and experiences.

Andrea Slonosky
Media Librarian
LIU - Brooklyn