The Boston Globe’s Sam Allis wrote a column on April 12 calling for that city’s corporate community to come to the rescue of the Boston Public Library (BPL) in order to prevent impending layoffs and the shuttering of four library branches. We’re all for keeping libraries open, especially during economic downturns when public library use soars as families struggle to make ends meet. We applaud his concern about BPL’s budget crunch and the danger of losing library services. But in calling for corporate citizens to come to the rescue of the BPL, Allis writes:
It’s not just the books or even computers, the sine qua non for the future transfer of knowledge. It’s the fundamental assumption that Boston prizes the culture that the branches foster across the city. The BPL is part of what separates us from Tulsa.
Excuse me?! (Someone hand me my boxin’ gloves!)
Now, I understand this kind of writing. A local service is threatened and the politician or opinion writer wants to emphasize how terrible the loss of this service would be. One strategy: pick a smaller state or community, and threaten that the service loss could turn your fair city into a Tulsa, or a Peoria, or a Bugtussle.
Too bad Allis was more interested in this cutsie (and lazy) strategy instead of really doing his research. Truth is, BPL might want to look at the success of the Tulsa City-County Library System (TCCL). Let’s look at some actual facts:
BPL Service Area (city of Boston): 620,000 (2008 estimate)
TCCL Service Area (county of Tulsa): 601,000 (2009 estimate)
BPL Branches: 27 (including central library)
TCCL Branches: 25 (including central library and genealogy branch)
So far, we’re sparring nicely. Now look at this:
BPL program attendance per capita: 0.29
TCCL program attendance per capita: 0.34
BPL visits per capita: 5.8
TCCL visits per capita: 6.1
BPL Internet use per capita: 1.18
TCCL Internet use per capita: 4.8
BPL circulation per capita: 4.8
TCCL circulation per capita: 8.5
Kapow! BPL goes down for the count!
All of these library stats can be found on Library Journal’s America’s Star Libraries ratings page. The magazine named TCCL a four-star library in 2009. Alas, BPL didn’t rate a star.
Tulsa’s library system is stellar, and it has a national reputation for providing excellent service to its users. Year after year, TCCL attracts more children to its summer reading program than any other library system in the state. Its Government Documents Depository received the first ever Federal Depository Library of the Year Award in 2003. (The feds bestowed this award on the Oklahoma Department of Libraries in 2009, meaning two Oklahoma libraries have received this honor in the seven short years of the award’s existence. No Massachusetts libraries have made this list yet.)
But this isn’t about Yankees vs. Okies. I’ve been to Boston three times and can honestly say it’s one of my favorite American cities. And, truth be told, my politics are probably more in line with the average Bay Stater than the average Oklahoman. No, this is about style over substance. It’s about writers not doing their homework. It’s about dissin Tulsa!