Is This Any Way to Run a Library?

March 17, 2012 by  

Countless organizations throughout Palm Beach County use the free meeting room services at the new downtown West Palm Beach Library, as well as Palm Beach County Library System branches. These are excellent facilities. Most offer free use of a digital projector and most have free, if slow, wireless internet connections.

The rooms are clean, modern, and attractive (especially in the new city library). The old city library had long outlived its usefulness, and certainly the stained ceiling tiles and even more stained carpeting added a patina that was not exactly a strong selling point, nor were the rather “interesting” people who gathered near the entrance at all hours.

The Palm Beach Phoenix Apple User Group needs additional space as our growing membership is stretching the resources of the otherwise excellent West Palm Beach Firehouse on Dixie Highway near Southern Boulevard. One viable option is the aforementioned county library system or the new downtown West Palm Beach Library. Experience has taught us, however, that the convenience (and the price—free) could wind up costing more than it’s worth. These public meeting rooms can be co-opted at a moment’s notice, in spite of confirmed reservations. In the case of the West Palm Beach Library, herhonor Ms. Frankel and her band of happy minions recently bumped another local computer user group on at least one occasion without a single care about who was being inconvenienced, so that meeting room could be used for “important city matters” (the quotes are mine). Ditto the Palm Beach County Library System. On one occasion, that very same user group was bumped with just a few hours notice before meeting time for a special library management meeting, so there was no possible way to notify the membership that the meeting had to be cancelled. I was one of those dispossessed souls and can tell you the air turned blue with some of my more colorful epithets, learned and crafted from nine years of service in the U.S. Air Force.

It’s awful hard to try to build a cadre of loyal members who honestly want to attend meetings when the membership is at the mercy of a capricious stroke of the pen by some overpaid and underworked bureaucrat. At least they’re up front about it. You can reserve all you want, but if we decide we need it for any purpose, sorry, Charlie—you’re outta luck. Oh, and too bad that some of your members had to drive 20 miles or more to attend the meeting. But seriously, the library system, both city and county do, make it clear that any reservations are subject to cancellation without notice—small comfort though that may be.

Alternatives? Not too many for cash-strapped organizations with small but growing membership rosters. Area schools have lots of room, but demand upwards of $1,000 a year, plus liability insurance which could cost an additional few hundred dollars. They also treat you like a cash cow–not as a customer and potential partner. I was at one confrontational meeting where the attitude from the school authorities was “what have you done for me lately?” (again, the quotes are mine), this after trying to extort the aforementioned outrageous fees from a nearly bankrupt club. There are few restaurants around that still have meeting rooms, but they charge a hefty premium and are usually booked months, if not years in advance. Condominium clubhouses can be expensive and usually require that at least one member live in the community. The Fire Station’s meeting room is really great and hospitable, but not practical for groups larger than about 30.

We’re still looking around for additional space, and hope we can find something free or real cheap so that we can maximize member benefits from the dues they pay. In the meantime, what is it with these library systems that empower themselves to trifle with people’s lives and schedules? Is this any way to run a business? Like that famous boll weevil of folk song fame, we gotta find a home.