Technology is vastly expanding the services libraries can offer, but it is also making it harder to protect patron privacy and keep services available to the poor as well as the rich, says a national library leader.
F. William Summers, president of the American Library Association, was in Salt Lake City Wednesday to speak to Utah librarians about current issues facing them and their colleagues around the country.Also speaking was Lillian Gerhardt, editor in chief of School Library Journal, and Amy Owen, director of the Utah State Library.
In a press conference, Summers said librarians have already had to combat FBI efforts to penetrate the confidentiality of library patron records.
Technology makes such monitoring much easier, but no less offensive to librarians and their patrons, Summers said. "The library's always been the one place in our society that you could go and you didn't have to give an account of yourself."
Because new technologies are costly, they also pose difficult equity issues. If libraries charge for such services as on-line database searches, many people will be shut out, which is contrary to the whole purpose of libraries, but libraries are under enormous financial pressure, Summers said.
Rising costs are a key issue facing all libraries, said Gerhardt and Owen.
In Utah, the average expenditure per school pupil on library materials is $4.15 per year, slightly under the national median two years ago of $4.56. Gerhardt said the state amount buys only one-third of a typical children's book these days.
The library officials said another vital concern is that the federal government, in its cost-cutting efforts, has eliminated many publications formerly available to libraries and turned over other government data - gathered at taxpayer expense - to private companies that sell it to the public.
"The result is double taxation to the user," Gerhardt said.
Owen said the private vendors also are often free to get rid of the data if it's not making money, so "we're also talking about losing part of our Nation's history."