by Mark Y. Herring (Dean of Library Services, Dacus Library, Winthrop University)
My wife Carol and I are notorious for never winning anything. You could place us in a room full of frequent multimillion-dollar lottery winners, and I swear all of them would lose from then on. It’s contagious, really. And though we’ve tried on numerous occasions to improve our odds, stack the deck, all-but-cheat, the end result is the same: we simply do not win. Get every red light, pick the wrong grocery line, pick the wrong queue at the ATM. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Black cats run from us!
For example, every year for the past five years, the school where my wife works has a drawing for prizes. It’s a way to kick off the school year in good form. Now these are not your fake-apple-for-the-teacher prizes but honest-to-goodness danegeld that anyone would want.
So, imagine my surprise and my wife’s utter amazement when this year she won the first prize given away, a Fitbit. For those of you living in some subterranean ecroulement, a Fitbit is one of the newest devices that tracks your sleep, your calories, your blood sugar, your daily steps, your IQ — you name, it records it. You can track this on your laptop by syncing it with the Fitbit and you — and whoever has hacked into your account — can see all the things you do, or don’t do, right. It has these bright lights that tell you when you reached your goals: one for you-lazy-good-for-nothing-slouch to five for kiss-my-Fitbit-Tony-Horton.
Now my wife has never been — how to put this delicately — an aficionado of exercise. All of our early married life, she could eat five bowls of ice cream and still remain her petit size four. She might begin an exercise regime only to stick to it like Jell-O on the wall, which is to say, for a few days and then fall off. It was maddening, really. I would walk by the refrigerator and gain weight; consequently, I began running in my twenties and have continued into my sixties. She, on the other hand, never really gave it a thought until two children and the doleful years of living with me later began to catch up. A few years ago, she began a daily regime.
When she won the Fitbit, that sleek, hot pink wrist device, I thought she might wear it a day or two. But, much to my surprise, she really took to it and devoted herself to checking everything: her biorhythms, her sleep patterns, her daily steps, and so on. So much did this become important to her that when we went to my older brother’s fiftieth wedding anniversary recently, she astonished me.
It was about 10:30 at night, and I was getting ready for bed. I had gone to brush my teeth. When I walked back into the hotel room … she was gone. No note, no sign of her, vanished. My first thought was that after 42 years she had had enough. Surely no one could blame her. I’m nothing if not difficult but honestly in a very winsome sort of way. Frankly, I had been the picture of dutiful devotion that day so it was a bit surprising that her walkout would come then. About ten minutes later she walked in.
“I had three lights and so I walked around the perimeter of the hotel to get in my steps. See,” she beamed. “All five.”
Now I know you must be wondering where all this is going, but that’s when it struck me that we need to devise something like this for libraries, something like a Libbit. Just think of it. It could measure everything from dwindling budgets, to shrinking space, to vanishing staffs, to overworked staff to, well, just about everything you can think of that’s causing libraries to slowly vanish like so much frost on a warming windshield.
The lights could glow and bells go off, more like a siren, when a library closes. They could flash when another budget is cut, or when some administrator says, “But it’s all on the Internet,” or when some legislator claims that higher education gets way too much money. Wait. Scratch that last one. If we alarm on that one none of us will get any sleep. Better to have it glow gold when a legislator says something intelligent about libraries.
We could even place giant-sized Libbits in town squares in case everyone thought they were too square and wouldn’t wear them. These life-sized Libbits would gong mercilessly when books were removed to make way for computers, or when deans or directors were reminded that they didn’t generate enough revenue or were simply financial black holes.
Libbits could become the latest craze. Everyone would want one and would check to see how many glowing lights showed goals being reached. Granted, it might take a few years for even one library to have all five lights shining at once. But think of how it might work: people would not go to bed before checking on their favorite library and would not go to sleep until they had helped that library reach its goals. They would climb out of bed and write another check before firing off another email to some legislator.
OK, OK. I get it. It’s a pipedream that even Apple wouldn’t fall for. So what do we do in the meantime?
We fall back on that timeworn but as yet unsuccessful other fit, the throwafit. We throwafit and continue making our case, as often as we can, as much as we can, and with as much devotion as we always have.