Recent Misconceptions about Public Libraries and Their Services–Debunked

Recent Library Misconceptions Debunked

Most people seem to love the library! And that’s wonderful! Sometimes, however, information on the internet can be misleading, incomplete, or inaccurate. Below are a few misconceptions about libraries and the work they do–debunked!

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Library vending machines do not need librarians.

Book Riot recently featured an article discussing the rise of automated library vending machines in response to the pandemic. The article notes that these vending machines are attractive to libraries with small budgets because they cost less than building and staffing librarians. It ends by darkly hinting that the rise of these machines could mean future libraries without librarians.

However, people should be aware that library vending machines still need librarians to stock them, and to pick up any returned items. Adding library vending machines probably means adding to staff’s work load by requiring them to drive around the local area maintaining these machines. It’s a discussion that should be had, as we consider job creep, and how library staff are routinely asked to take on more tasks without more pay.

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Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library must not be all that great because it asks for community partners to pay for books.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination is known fondly in the U.S. for mailing free books to children under the age of five. What many people do not realize is that Dolly herself is not personally funding every single book. Rather, the organization asks for community partners to pay for the cost of the books (often these community partners include public libraries). The organization then handles administrative matters. Sometimes, when people learn this, they feel betrayed and try to suggest that the program is some sort of scam. But what the Imagination Library does is all very clearly explained on their website:

The Imagination Library provides the infrastructure of the core program including managing the secure central database for the Book Order System and coordinating book selections and wholesale purchasing. It also incurs the cost of the program’s administrative expenses and coordinates the monthly mailings.

Imagination Library

That is, the Imagination Library does most of the heavy lifting by having experts decide on age-appropriate books. They also handle tasks such as managing the information databases, and buying, packaging, and mailing out books. The community partner(s) just have to pay for the books and send along the names and addresses of registered children.

That’s not to say that the cost of the program is not an issue. I spoke to someone who knows someone who helped set up an Imagination Library partnership, and she said that it took awhile because the Imagination Library wanted several years’ worth of payment up front. All together, that’s a lot of money! However, per book, it’s not. The Imagination Library likely cuts down on the cost per book by purchasing wholesale (see above) from their dedicated publishing partners.

So, in the end, if a person can find enough local organizations willing to raise funds for the Imagination Library, it’s a win. The community gets cheap books mailed to them and all they have to do is find the money and let the Imagination Library do the rest.

So, really, this misconception is a double one. First, people should know that if their local library partners with the Imagination Library, the public library is probably footing part of the bill and should receive some credit for that. Two, people should know that the public library footing part of the bill is not part of some nefarious plot. The Imagination Library is very transparent about what services they provide and what community partners are expected to provide, and that information is all available on their website.

What misconceptions about the public library have you seen?

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11 thoughts on “Recent Misconceptions about Public Libraries and Their Services–Debunked

  1. Mint says:

    When I was a kid, a misconception about the public library I had was that librarians were scary and I’d be bothering them if I asked them questions. I used to try and figure out things by myself, because I knew if I asked my mom something, she’d ask me to ask the librarian and I did NOT want to do that!

    To be fair, one of the branches I used to go to all the time did look kind of intimidating for kids, so the misconception was rooted in some reality. The kid’s section was in a corner of the library, with a colourful rug in a back corner and smaller chairs/shorter tables being the only sign it was for kids. The closest help desk was in the adult part of the library, or you could wait at the tall counter to ask someone checking out books. If I thought the space looked scary, maybe I’d see the librarians in that space as scary too.


    • Krysta says:

      To be fair, the children’s librarians at my public library were actually somewhat scary. I used to make my mom ask them questions for me because, if I asked myself, they would always say no, they didn’t want to get up from the desk and get that book! But if a grown-up asked them, suddenly they were able to do their jobs!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    I’ve not come across library vending machines, but we do have self service kiosks. It always amazes me that people think these things can function without a human coming along to remove and sort the books.


    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      The last time I went to the library, I tried to use the self check-out, and it was so glitchy I basically never want to use it again and will just go to the desk! (It’s a different machine from the ones my previous library had, so I guess they’re not ALL bad but . . . yeah. I was the only person at this library using one, when they have about 10 of them, and I can see why!)

      At my previous library, they had an automated check-in machine that sucked the books into the building and sorted them into bins, but the librarians told me they could never get rid of the normal book drops because a decent percentage of the population “didn’t trust” the automated thing to check in their books correctly.


      • Krysta says:

        I see a lot of people ask for receipts for their check ins and that makes me chuckle a little. I guess they don’t trust the staff to check in books! But I’ve had stuff not scanned in correctly, and if you call, they just go locate the item on the shelf for you and check it in, and waive any late fines. I think some people are very anxious about accruing fines, which is understandable, but a lot libraries will work with you on that.


  3. BookerTalk says:

    I’ve heard of automated libraries but fortunately the cost of installation of the technology seems to be stopping some of our local government bodies investing in them. I really hope this idea is kicked into touch – if there are no librarians who can someone go to to ask for book recommendations??


    • Krysta says:

      Yes, librarians are so important for a variety of reasons! I think automated libraries might work for individuals who know exactly what they are looking for–but not for readers who need assistance with research, or who may need a recommendation for a certain age level, etc.


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