Library Decimation?

Another day, another insightful, interesting library blogger. Andy Woodworth published a challenging blog post last week entitled, Why Closing More Public Libraries Might Be the Best Thing (...Right Now).

Even with the parenthetical qualification, this solution strikes me as exceedingly drastic. Andy starts this post with an analogy (the Roman Army's practice of decimation) that implies a certain number of randomly chosen libraries (or librarians) should be stoned out of existence. As far as selection/elimination algorithms go, random sortition techniques (aka drawing of lots) used by the Roman soldiers and the villagers in The Lottery leave a lot to be desired. I prefer tournaments, wherein participants compete according to a set of neutral, well-publicized rules.  Even then though, the question arises, who gets to create the rules, and who does the judging? 

Even more important, why are we even discussing a proposal to cut loose some of our colleagues for the good of the profession? While I agree with some of Andy's critiques of the library profession, I'm doubtful as to the long-term value of closing some libraries in order to "shake up the profession". I have trouble imagining some future era when local governments will have the money and wisdom to re-establish libraries that they de-funded during the recession of 2009-2012. Inertia is a powerful force. If towns and counties tear down their libraries, future politicians will get used to a bookless world and no amount of  initiative and teamwork will be able to Humpty-Dumpty back together again.

On the other hand, I agree wholeheartedly with his emphasis on the importance of paraprofessionals. Andy describes the ideal paraprofessional as, "someone who will act as an advocate for the library at the desk that most patrons interact with." So often, we talk about "the profession" and conduct conversations about the ideal library school curriculum. However, on most days, at least 50% of those who represent libraries to the public didn't attend library school and have no plans to do so.