Can you stand one more letter about the Chicago Public Library staff transfers? Ben Joravsky’s article on the staff shake-up at Chicago Public Library [“Reading Is Incidental,” November 15] raised valid and disturbing points, but also omits some key issues that previous letter writers have also ignored. Having worked at an underfunded, understaffed CPL branch on the south side ten years ago, I can testify to the “savage inequalities,” as Jonathan Kozol would put it, between branches that served poor, mostly black and Hispanic neighborhoods and those in wealthier and whiter areas. Things may have changed since then, but I can certainly see the value in sending top-quality professionals out to neglected branches, which often had no professional librarians at all.
As a fellow automobilephobe, I empathize with those unwilling to navigate the torturous labyrinth of the CTA to get to work every day. Yet I can’t help but wonder: would their protests be quite so vociferous had they been transferred to whiter, “safer” neighborhoods than 61st Street or 90th and Houston? And as a reference librarian who regularly works with children, I would remind the guy who huffs about his “wasted” experience that there is much an enthusiastic reference librarian can do to improve literacy and critical thinking skills in youthful future taxpayers if he’s willing to make the effort.
But let me collect my aspersions and cast them back on the other side. Although I agree that more resources should be allocated to branch libraries, where people do most of their reading, it is also true that subject experts at the central library serve as resources for the entire system. I’ve learned plenty about Middle Eastern history, for example, from David Williams’s wonderful bibliography on the subject, and I regularly refer patent questions to Linda Porter’s business, science, and technology department. And just how can the Thomas Hughes Children’s Library serve as a “training ground” by axing the person best able to do the training? This is ludicrous.
If Mary Dempsey et al really want to improve neighborhood service, they should be transferring well-trained generalists, not the most experienced specialists. Branch patrons would still benefit from improved service, and librarians throughout the system could continue to draw on the expertise of those at Harold Washington. For younger librarians, a transfer could truly be an opportunity, giving them broader managerial experience at the branches than they would get at Central. And who wouldn’t rather be served by a librarian who wants to be where s/he is than by an embittered specialist smarting from a demotion and an expired CTA card?