I use my library mainly for e-books downloaded from home, but whether it’s 3D printing lessons or specialty manga on paper, librarians are up to plenty else—face-to-face. Let’s pay them fairly.
Alas, not everyone agrees. Torontoist has a well-done article on the Toronto Library Worker’s Union’s challenging quest for better benefits. As the article highlights, this is not just about salary. “Difficulty accessing benefits, shifting work hours, and impermanent employment” are among the issues the union is trying to negotiate.
One argument against a better deal is the austerity one. The city has only a finite amount of money available, and there are, of course, many competing demands for it. But the library system here is widely used, and according to a commissioned productivity report, it brings in $5.63 in revenue for every dollar spent. Surely, that level of productivity is worth investing in.
The bigger issue people aren’t quite ready to discuss is what role librarians should actually be having in the workplace of the future. Goods are cheap, both to manufacture and to ship. Those secure jobs are gone. Customer service positions are increasingly being outsourced to other countries. We don’t all want to be working in low-paying food service jobs. So STEM jobs in science and engineering, and knowledge jobs in programming and IT, are the way of the future. Don’t librarians have a major role to play in such an economy, as curators of all things knowledge?
I mostly use the library’s e-book services these days. But the Toronto Public Library has a policy which requires all card-holders to show in person one time a year to renew their cards. On these annual trips, I have seen what the library is doing. The central reference branch has a large atrium; they have appropriated some of that space for a gift shop which sells specialty manga, among other things. Another recently renovated branch has installed a Maker Lab. Librarians are running some innovative programs in these spaces, and steering patrons toward the skills and resources they will need for life in our emerging knowledge-based economy. Surely that’s worth a little support.