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Chicago Fri Jan 27 2012
Dempsey was appointed by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley and served for 18 years. Under Dempsey, the CPL built 44 new libraries and created programs such as One Book, One Chicago. Her resignation comes after a contentious situation this month due to the branches closing on Mondays due to budget and staff cuts.
Brian Bannon, chief information officer for the San Francisco Public Library, has been named as Dempsey's successor.
The biggest question is what will happen with the CPL without Dempsey at the helm. Under her leadership, the CPL became what it is today and, barring the reduction of hours, is available to the residents of most Chicago neighborhoods.
The potentially troubling aspect of the new appointment is that Bannon is a technology-oriented person. According to the Tribune, "Bannon, 37, spearheads initiatives and other computer-based learning programs in the San Francisco system." This raises the question as to whether or not the CPL might focus more on digital materials with Bannon at the helm. Some may think that e-Readers and e-Books are the wave of the future and no one will want to read paper, but a potential push towards digital technology could be problematic.
The very idea of wanting to focus on digital technology as a way of improving literacy or education is not a good idea. A key issue with technology is the accessibility individuals have. For example, a person with a low-income may only have access to technology through the CPL due to the cost of a computer as well as internet access. If a government institution pushes digital technology as a method of learning it is likely an even deeper class divide in literacy and education could occur because of a lack of technological access to educational resources and materials.
But a class divide is not the only issue with pushing digital materials at a library. Not everyone in Chicago owns an e-reader. Some people simply can't afford an e-reader and others prefer print. Furthermore, according to testimony Dempsey gave during the 2011 budget hearings, downloadable media accounted for less than 1 percent of the CPL's circulation. (Link opens a PDF file) For those who own an e-reader, there are few incentives to want to get an e-book from the CPL.
If someone owns a Kindle or a Nook e-reader, there is technology built into the system that allows users of those e-readers to lend books to their friends. A difference is that for Nook the LendMe technology is free but a Kindle user has to have an Amazon Prime account, which costs money, in order to be lend and borrow books.
Another problem is that the CPL's selection of e-books isn't that great. For example, if you want to read the a fairly new book it is not available from the CPL to be downloaded as an e-book. Meanwhile the new book can be downloaded from an e-book store for reading and the book will cost less than buying the print edition. However, a delayed availability for a new e-book from the library is just like waiting for the print copy of the book.
The legacy of Dempsey is likely to be that she helped improve the massive system of information that circulated 9,764,381 items in 2011. Yes, the system faced struggles--the Sun-Times has a very gossipy article about alleged problems between her and Mayor Emanuel--but if anyone can find a part of the Chicago government that hasn't faced struggles in the course of even ten years, please share it in the comments.
It would be nice if Bannon would improve the libraries and possibly expand services to people who need books. A focus on expanding e-books or other digital materials for Chicagoans could be a bad idea at this point in time. Ultimately, whether or not the new CPL commissioner can carry on Dempsey's legacy and if the libraries will be less resistant to cuts is what Chicagoans will wait to see.