Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Purpose of Public Libraries

Posting today from the local public library as I wait to go in to teach critical thinking to middle schoolers and looking at the rack of comic books in front of me brought back a story on NPR from yesterday. Apparently, over half of the books bought by women today are romance novels.

This leads to a question which has been a point of contention in Baltimore between the head librarians of the venerable Enoch Pratt library in Baltimore City and the upstart libraries in suburban Baltimore County. The county spends lots of money on such romance novels arguing that the library is a public service and ought to spend tax dollars catering to the desires of the population. The Pratt, on the other hand, spends its dollars on more erudite materials arguing that the library ought to serve as an intellectual beacon in the community, not catering to the lowest common denominator.

So, which do you think is right? The middle ground..."buy some, but not too many" is a cop out. The underlying question here is about the purpose of public libraries. So?