Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Phoenix Public Library - Desert Sage Branch

With my disgruntlement at Netflix at an all time high (late mailings, damaged mailings, many of the movies I want to see not available) we dropped it down to 2 movies a month, which this month, we burned through by December 12th. So knowing a Master Librarian friend in Ohio (or would it be Mistress Librarian?) and the wide variety of multi-media available at public libraries that she has mentioned (as well as all those pesky books), I signed up for a library card last year.

My first full day of vacation this past Monday, I sojourned to the Western most branch of the Phoenix Library system, about a mile and a 1/2 from my home, the "Desert Sage Branch". It's located next to "Desert Sky Mall" - aka "Idiocracy Mall" for the plethora of denizens wearing silk sports jerseys and flatbiller caps, shopping at the many costume jewelry & piercing pavilions, high carb starch walk-ups, and skater-wear / sports-wear / cell phone stores therein, in a neighborhood that one would call "economically depressed". Idiocracy Mall is also a main transfer station for the ubiquitous Phoenix bus system.

I got there at 10:05am, as the library used to open at 10. There were only 5 or 6 cars in the parking lot, but nearly 2 dozen people waiting at the front door. A large posted sign inside the locked doors stated "New Hours: 11am to 7pm". Ah yes, Phoenix's $100 million dollar budget short fall, on a sales tax based financial model, when sales have plummeted. No worries, I had other errands to run - gift cards to buy, pool gate locks to purchase, delicious Polish deli cuisine to pick up from the Warsaw Market.

So I get back to the library at 1130am. The parking lot is packed. Again, as I saw last year, the 10 internet computer terminals are signed up for the rest of the day, at 20 minute slots. The WiFi is being used by 2 retirees who brought in their wide screen expensive laptops, while the cast of 'the remains of humanity' from "The Road" are using the computer terminals. The children's section, once again, is devoid of any living creature, strangely. In the stacks, there are many people perusing the volumes, but in front of the CDs and DVD shelves, it's practically standing room only. Nearly as fast as the librarians can put the returned disks back on the shelves, that citizens are loading up armfuls to haul home. I'd call it "a lively and well used" branch location.

As I went to check out, I noticed the four laser scanning self-check-out stations. Never having used the self scanners before, and enjoying time spent interacting with bibliophiles, I chose to go to the desk with a human being behind it to check-out. No no no! The head librarian would have none of that, as she saw me with a stack of books and DVDs, swept in, and guided me over to the self-check-out line. Hmmmm. Would have been better, if the head librarian actually could get the scanners to work (Her: "you can put 3 at a time on the scanner.... well.... [shifting to 2... which it reads, but she doesn't see them listing.. and she get flustered] this should work..." [shifting some more]. Me: "I have it mame, thank you" [pointing to the screen, where the titles are displayed, to reassure Judi Dench]).

One strange thing I noticed... the "new books" cart, was loaded with pop culture books. 'Thrillers', and romances, that I have no desire to read... but which the Desert Sage Branch had just put out 6 or 8 or 10 hard bound copies. My guess is, they 'knew' there would be a demand for these 'best sellers' and stocked up inordinately. But with budget cuts, and reduced hours, I'd hope they'd stock up with less fluff, and more reference / more hard-to-find / more lesser-known titles. Perhaps that is too much to expect, especially since the branch is Right Next To Idiocracy Mall - gotta give the masses what they want.

And it is not just 'liberals' who use / leverage and use and frequent libraries. Our Mistress Librarian friend in SE OH has entertained us with many stories of home schoolers coming in, looking for "the books that show Jesus and the dinosaurs together" and complaining that the library offers this or that book that the narrow black-and-white conservative mind considers fit only to be burned. My godfather in the Chicago suburbs regales me with tales of his ultra-paranoid, ultra-conservative, massively hateful, on-medicare-but-keep-your-government-hands-off-my-health-care-cancer-patient neighbor who parks his van Next To his local library branch so he can send out right wing ranting emails over the WiFi from the parking lot. Perhaps these no-tax-and-invisibly-spend right wingers just want wealthy conservative patrons to write large charitable donations to libraries, to fund them, and then only keep the "right kind" of books and movies in them? I don't know. I Do Know that in Phoenix, the public libraries are functioning as a strong social safety net for the disenfranchised, unemployed, and active-job seekers. Tax dollars well spent, in this citizen's opinion.


  1. Where to start???
    First of all, give the librarian a break. She's probably operating at a staff 50% smaller than she needs and if she checks your books out then every single one of those idiots is going to expect personalized check-outs, check-ins and renewals (because trust me - few of them use their internet time to renew their library books).
    As far as the available books, the library you describe is commonly known as a "popular materials" library. Most public libraries are - for the hardcore reference you should try the main branch - this kind of stuff is generally housed there. Also, if there's a particular item for which you are searching, check the catalog. Chances are that you can order it from a different branch (Phoenix being a large system) or pay a dollar and Inter Library Loan it.
    Also, Phoenix was one of the first public library systems in the country to go to fully automated ordering. This means that Baker and Taylor chooses all of their books - sure the people who work at B&T have library backgrounds, but they rely strictly on circulation statistics when ordering. Any book by James Patterson (bane of any library budget) will circ 200 times vs. a more esoteric author or any non-fiction that doesn't crossover into popular culture, cooking, politics, or religion. I'm lucky that the library for which I work still has actual librarians in the buildings doing the ordering and that my boss has degrees in history, religion and poly sci as well as library science. That and he is a socialist. We get a lot of leeway in our ordering. That being said, we also have to get the James Patterson books to justify our existence.
    AS far as the wingnuts and the public library; they expect the library to be open 24/7, have all of the textbooks their home-schooled children need, not house any materials that they deem inappropriate (my personal favorite that someone wanted removed from our collection? Footloose!), and they don't want to pay any fines because their tax dollars support the library.
    For the most part, the patrons where I work now are well-educated and reasonable. Lots of stay-at home moms, but few home-schoolers, and fairly multi-cultural (there's a mosque a mile away). But I digress...
    I'm just saying that you have to give the librarian the benefit of the doubt. If she is the stereotypical middle-aged librarian you describe, then she is longing for the world of libraries that she pictured in library school all those years ago...a quiet world where people only wanted to check out important works like Jane Austen, a world where students came in to study - not hang out with their friends and get videos, a world where the men who came in were looking for information on auto repair, not trying to look at pornography on the library computers.
    Rant over - if you can't find peace w/the Desert Sage branch, I suggest you drive into Scottsdale. In a sad twist of fate, those libraries in communities with more resources tend to be so much better than those libraries in poor neighborhoods. Our government at work.
    Rant over.

  2. Thank you Mistress Librarian! =)

    Indeed it WAS Mr. Patterson whose works covered the aforementioned cart. NOW I know why. Curse you, B&T!

    I was giving the librarian a break. Bibliophiles are nice people. I was not intending to sound harsh in my criticism of Judi Dench's look-a-like. She Was well intended, and the scanner DID work better than expected, with patience applied.

    It's sad that porn is such a huge draw that it brings in patrons 'just for that purpose'... creepy, and gross. Ew. There's all sorts of filtering software that can be applied (my employer is so overly paranoid, that just about ANYTHING that Hyderabad has not previously approved for web traffic, does not go through). I was hoping that all of those out-of-work, semi-transient, semi-sentient, semi-ambulatory West Phoenix denizens were looking for employment, sending our resumes in email... etc.. and not looking up publicly accessible porn. Ew.

    I DO hope the rant was therapeutic! I am happy to provide this space to all readers for venting & exchange of ideas. Dr Desert Flower and I Have received the St. John's beaches book you so kindly sent via Amazon. Thank you!!!!


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