The undead and the unfree

Grad school started back up so I’ve been busy. But two stories caught my eye this Halloween. One was about a library in the Atlanta area offering a pandemic program with a zombie theme. The library had “a bit of pushback from staff about the zombie-themed marketing.” But the programming coordinator went for it anyway. The program sounded great — a public health information session on preparing for emergencies, learning about vaccines, and understanding pandemics. Perhaps some staff thought it was too frivolous a marketing theme for a serious subject. But since it is a really important topic, shouldn’t the marketing be designed to attract the most people possible?

Meanwhile, I also read yet another story about prisons banning books, and requiring prisoners to use their eReaders instead (at a high cost). Right now my library had an inter-library loan that is overdue at the federal prison in our state. They aren’t easy to lend to — my access services coordinator says this is not the first time they’ve held onto an item long past its due date. But this article gave me pause and made me realize what a valuable service it is to lend to prisons. Reading in jail has been linked to lower rates of recidivism. Books can help inmates learn about the laws that have impacted their lives. And I certainly couldn’t live without books. It seems to me that if people have lost their freedom we don’t need to also refuse them access to information and reading. It also seems silly to ban books rather than just inspect them with greater scrutiny.

Happy Halloween.



Much has been made lately, including here at Nocturnal Librarian, about the future of library services. From internet access to unusual lending items to maker spaces and even bookless libraries, our profession is innovating to stay relevant.  But two articles recently caught my eye that made me wonder if a) we don’t have an image problem after all, we’ve just fallen off the radar of too many people and b) we should remember what we already do best before we go reinventing libraries.

First I saw Brian Kenney’s Publishers Weekly piece “Libraries: Good Value, Lousy Marketing,” about the Pew report Library Services in the Digital Age. His take is that libraries are doing fine with the people who are already using our multiplying services and programming, but that we aren’t marketing ourselves to the rest of America. If only they knew that we were offering snacks, classes, supervised after school activities, invention workshops, and places to hang out, they’d come, goes this line of thinking. Which on the surface, makes sense. If we’re in the midst of revolutionizing library services for the “digital age” then we have to tell people we’re not their grandmother’s library.

One of the first comments I read pointed out the chicken-and-egg problem this presents: funding and staffing is often contingent on demonstrated library use, and all those amazing programs and services require funds and staff. Libraries often have minuscule marketing budgets. In many cases even our websites are not entirely in our control, because city or county IT departments are managing them. But even assuming shoestring PR tools like public service announcements on TV and radio, community bulletins in newspapers, and social media tools, it takes staff to do marketing, and staff to create and provide all the whiz-bang new offerings. We might get budget increases if we prove people are coming, and they won’t come without our letting them know, so  . . . .

Then I read something which struck me as equally important, maybe even more so: at, Laura Miller writes that what she noticed in the Pew study is that percentage wise, almost the same high number of respondents — 76% —  mentioned quiet spaces as an important library service, which is, as Miller notes: “only one percentage point less than the value given to computer and Internet access. A relatively silent place to read is almost exactly as valuable to these people as the Internet!” (emphasis Miller’s)

One of the first things people ask me if they haven’t been in the library for awhile is where to find a quiet spot. There’s almost nowhere else to go in most communities to have quiet space to read, write, imagine, think, in short, to be still.  Most librarians don’t actually “shush” anymore, but Miller is right, if we allow ourselves to be as busy and boisterous as any old Starbucks, we’ve lost one of the most unique things we have to offer.