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From Denverpost.com

Library’s mission off the mark (buffy mention)

By David Harsanyi

Thursday 6 January 2005, by Webmaster

Have you ever had the pleasure of reading Dr. Seuss’ "The Foot Book"? I have. A couple of thousand times, actually.

To help alleviate this intolerable cruelty, I occasionally head to the local library with my kids to take out books such as "Where Is Baby’s Belly Button?" or "Everybody Poops" - basically anything that isn’t titled "The Foot Book."

It’s on these visits that I typically spot an unfortunate soul in his mid-30s checking out a half-dozen episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," or some such thing, and instantly I question the function of the library system - and humanity’s mental state in general.

In the all-too-near future, Mayor John Hickenlooper will ask voters for a tax increase to support expanded library services. But before we’re all blackmailed into subsidizing the perverted habits of others with cries of "community" and "The poor helpless children, what will they read?" it’s only fair to ask: What exactly is the role of the library? What kind of product should be stocked on its shelves? And where are we headed?

To find out, I swing by the futuristic gem of the Denver Public Library system, the Schlessman Family Branch Library, a building at East First Avenue and Poplar Street designed in the ultramodern airplane hangar motif - so contemporary that it already appears hopelessly outdated.

This library is a pilot site because it includes free coffee, "lots of comfortable seating," perhaps the Denver library system’s most impressive DVD collection and a bunch of popular CDs with listening stations. In other words, it’s a free Barnes & Noble.

What strikes you immediately as conspicuous, however, is the departure from traditional library silence. Schlessman is noisy - really noisy.

You’ll also notice that the building slants to the north, the side with the DVDs and CDs.

Books are a remote afterthought to anyone who’s under 20 here.

Behind the bright smiles of the librarians, there is tension. They’ve worked their tails off to earn master’s degrees, only to be forced to subdue the ancient art of shushing and become mere clerks. The humiliation they must feel checking out an Ashlee Simpson CD to some punk who could care less about Melville Dewey is probably unbearable.

Doubtlessly, they ask themselves: Is this what a library has become - a ghastly postmodern structure filled with espressos, listening stations and "Buffy" DVDs? I ask: Is the state now on the hook for my entertainment, too?

M. Celeste Jackson, public relations manager for the Denver Public Library, tells me it’s DPL’s mission to "help the people of our community to achieve their full potential." Which is a catchy message, yet ambiguous enough not to be a message at all.

"We are circulating 80,000 items per month at Schlessman," Jackson points out. "We are doing big business there."

Big business? Should a library be in business at all? Should it compete with Blockbuster? Or should it provide a basic level of educational and research services for the community?

In Schlessman, the display tables situated in your path to entice you don’t feature anything approaching a classic work of literature. As Jackson explains it, "the library is not set up to make judgments about what to make available." I suppose that’s why I’m left staring at a stack of Tatum O’Neil’s new bio, "A Paper Life."

But since budget cuts to the Denver Public Library have already eliminated some jobs and cut its book-buying budget, maybe it needs to refocus.

According to Jackson, about 60 percent of the Denver Public Library’s circulation is DVDs and CDs. She believes the library needs to stay "relevant."

The Schlessman concept, Jackson says, is to give the people what they want. "It’s an experiment," she says, "using the merchandised library concept."

But should the library give people what they want? Most people, myself included, want junk. And worst of all, we always want more.

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