The Governor has announced that a settlement has been reached with the unions. The details have not been released, but the Governor said that there will be no furloughs and no reduction in hours. Also there will be no layoffs over the next 4 years. There will still need to be some budget reductions to achieve the full savings and those won’t be known until next week or so. I am cautiously optimistic that based on what was said the State Library will not be eliminated. However, some cuts may be on the horizon.
Here’s hoping the budget cuts that are made don’t hobble Connecticut libraries. I’ll keep you posted.
Update: the state library may be safe, but the details aren’t settled yet.
As I write this post, Connecticut is facing the elimination of funding for its state library. While the mission of the state library is “to preserve and make accessible Connecticut’s history and heritage and to advance the development of library services statewide,” it does that in such important ways. From the CLA website:
If the State Library goes away there will be no more:
The 2011 CLA Annual Conference was last week, and I was able to attend on Tuesday, the second day. It was kind of fun because for the first time, I had an employer who paid my registration, and for the first time I knew people at the conference and didn’t have that awkward moment at lunch surveying the tables and trying to decide who looked friendly enough to welcome a stranger.
I attended four different sessions, checked out the exhibit hall, and then listened to the keynote speaker. Here are a few notes from the sessions I attended. (more…)
Tigard-Tualatin eliminated Pasteris’ position this year, along with the district’s nine other elementary media assistants. The move saved $420,000, but keeping the libraries functioning without assistants has been a challenge.
“The hard part is finding out what are some things we just really have to stop doing,” Byrom Elementary Principal Rick Fraisse said.
District officials say there was little choice in the matter. If not the library assistants, something else would have been cut to deal with the district’s budget woes.
There are now no elementary school media assistants in this school district. And the libraries are not managing to operate normally without them: there are things they’ve had to stop doing–and that means providing services or materials. One school didn’t have morning announcements for a month because it’d been part of what the library assistant did! District officials may say there was little choice, but is the library really the least important thing, the best choice when it comes to cuts? If a school intends to educate its students, the library should be at the very heart of that, not an extra to cut as soon as there’s a budget shortfall. And no, you can’t replace library staff with volunteers and expect things to carry on smoothly like before.
Recent trends in book challenges
In further ugh-inducing news, USA Today recently covered trends in book challenges and bans across the country. While the total number of challenges (or those reported to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, at least) has been steady at 400-500 challenges per year for the last thirty years, those challenges are more often coming from organized groups rather than one offended individual (and I’d guess that means that there are fewer people actually reading the books they’re challenging and more people just acting on what some organization has told them). And, insanely enough, “[T]he American Library Association and other groups say they have seen a noticeable rise in complaints about literature used in honors or college-level courses.” College-level courses. I assume that means college-level courses in high school and not actual college courses; if I’m wrong, please let me know so I can go weep for the youth of today. I know parents want to protect their children for as long as they can, but if those kids are taking classes that they can use for college credit, I don’t think you can expect the content of the literature to be squeaky clean. Yikes.
The New York Society Library has made public its first charging ledger, which records checkouts from 1789 to 1792 and includes records of what prominent New Yorkers, members of Congress, and even the Vice President and President were borrowing at the time. You can search the ledger, see at what individual people were borrowing, and even look at digital scans of actual pages from the ledger.
When we were working on our community repository project last spring, the head of the genealogy center at the Eckhart Public Library discussed his thoughts on balancing privacy and access: he wanted to make as many things as open as possible, but some records–like library card registrations from generations ago that gave people’s names and addresses–remained closed indefinitely for privacy reasons. So while it’s fun to see what George Washington was reading, and it gives us a more nuanced view of the man who was our first President, and he’s been gone long enough that he and his descendants probably won’t care, I wonder if there’s a statute of limitations on privacy. Do we violate our professional principles when we open these records, even if the particular people involved are long dead? I’d say probably not, but it’s something we need to consider every time we open what would normally be closed records, no matter how interesting the contents of those records.
The tree is constituted predominantly by copies of publications such as Congressional Quarterly Almanac and The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature.
Those books were chosen for a reason.
“We went into the collection and took a few of the books that aren’t used quite as often as others,” Kabat said.
That hasn’t stopped some students from giving the library staff a little good-natured grief.
“We’ve had some people come by and ask, ‘What if I need to use that book in the middle there?’ and we’ve said, ‘Too bad, you’ll have to wait until January,’” Kabat said, adding that her project reminds her of the nerve-racking game Jenga.
And finally, did you hear? The previously-capped-at-eight-books Pretty Little Liars series will be expanded by another four titles starting with Twisted in July. I’ve heard from other librarians that the dangerous divas/rich bitches/backstabbing beauties books are falling off in popularity among their patrons, but the Pretty Little Liars series and others like it are still going strong at my library, so I’m sure my patrons will be thrilled to see new material.
The New York Times recently ran an article about a private company being contracted to run public libraries. The company is LSSI (Library Systems and Services), and they’re now running 14 library systems with 63 different locations in California, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas–which, if you measure library system size by branches, now makes them the fifth-largest library system in the country. The idea is that a private company is better suited to cutting costs and increasing efficiency, but I think ceding control of our public libraries to private companies will destroy exactly what is good about public libraries.
Alicia of The LibrariYAn does a great job of identifying a lot of the problems with the rationale behind letting a private company take control of a public library and the effects of doing so (especially her arguments about how “cutting costs” often means cutting salaries and benefits and excluding union workers or turning to volunteers instead of trained professionals), but I wanted to contribute some more thoughts.
I think what makes me angriest is what Frank A. Pezzanite, the CEO of LSSI, thinks about libraries and librarians:
“There’s this American flag, apple pie thing about libraries,” said Frank A. Pezzanite, the outsourcing company’s chief executive. He has pledged to save $1 million a year in Santa Clarita, mainly by cutting overhead and replacing unionized employees. “Somehow they have been put in the category of a sacred organization.”
“A lot of libraries are atrocious,” Mr. Pezzanite said. “Their policies are all about job security. That’s why the profession is nervous about us. You can go to a library for 35 years and never have to do anything and then have your retirement. We’re not running our company that way. You come to us, you’re going to have to work.”
You know what, Mr. Pezzanite, screw you. I’m sure that there are librarians who have been coasting throughout their careers, but especially now in a time of budget cuts and there being more MLS grads than there are new positions, the librarians I know are not doing nothing. It’s true that because of the high cost of firing someone and replacing them, it can be difficult to get rid of less productive employees at a non-profit organization, but that’s still no reason to insult an entire profession. And New York Times, you’re really not helping dispel the notion that libraries are full of old people who are resistant to change by showing a picture of an elderly librarian who “is opposed to the outsourcing plan.”
Furthermore, Mr. Pezzanite’s snide dismissal of public libraries as “this American flag, apple pie thing” makes me very angry. The library isn’t a sacred organization, but in many communities, it’s the only place the least fortunate have to go to be put in touch with resources they desperately need. As more and more government services are moved exclusively online (especially things like filing for unemployment) and employers begin accepting applications online only, it’s even more important that public libraries are able to offer free computer and Internet access to those who can’t get online anywhere else. (Remember that 67% of public libraries are the only place in the community that offer free computer and Internet access and that 90% of public libraries offer technology training.)
Libraries are also where parents can take their children for storytimes that improve their literacy skills, where families can borrow DVDs for free, where people can attend classes that teach them new skills or help them develop their hobbies, where anyone can get book recommendations or have their questions answered, where works of fiction and non-fiction representing what humanity has created and discovered are kept, and where resources are shared. None of this is done because it turns a profit, and in fact, the people who most need libraries are the ones who are least able to afford those services elsewhere. A for-profit company is going to be much less concerned with meeting the needs of the community that supports it and much more concerned with operating as cheaply as possible, regardless of what services they have to cut or the quality of those services and materials. In some ways, this echoes the preference for “male” values (competition, success, profit) over “female” values (helping others, sharing, building community) that I’ve talked about before.
I also think that one of the greatest strengths of the public library is that it is local. The management tree never goes past the city or county or maybe state that funds the library, so libraries are able to reflect their communities. They develop digital collections of photographs reflecting their communities over the years, they connect people to local agencies, they plan programs that make use of local people’s expertise, and the really good ones buy locally (even when it’s more expensive than getting materials from huge corporate vendors) and invest the tax dollars they receive back into their communities. I have a hard time believing that a for-profit company based in a state all the way across the country would be as interested in knowing, serving, and supporting the local community.
We need to consider who wins and who loses when we turn control of our public libraries over to private, for-profit companies. Staff members suffer in reduced wages and a limit on their ability to form unions. Patrons suffer because cutting costs means cutting services or materials or requiring payment for things that were formerly free. The entire local community suffers because the library is less likely to serve local interests or invest money back in the community. The only party who wins is the for-profit company. Rather than turning public libraries over to for-profit companies, libraries should find ways to cut costs and increase efficiency themselves or, if they need outside help, hire consultants while still maintaining their autonomy. And in fact, that’d be an even better outcome in terms of costs vs. expenditures because however much the local government spends on the contract with LSSI, LSSI is going to be spending less than that to run the library so they can turn a profit. Keeping the library public means keeping that would-be profit to a private company invested in the community.
This isn’t some sort of American flag apple pie garbage–it’s preserving our local culture, our identity as citizens instead of consumers, and our cultural repositories from the dehumanizing crush of a capitalism that favors profits over people and efficiency over assistance. Public libraries need to remain publicly funded and publicly managed if they’re going to continue to do the good they do in our communities.
Once I started library school, my mom started noticing libraries in the news. Every month or so she’ll send me a clipping or a link to a story about a library in our area, a report on a new trend in librarianship, or a write-up on some controversy at a library. Today she showed me “Libraries branching out to malls”, an AP article that describes how some libraries are opening branches–some that look like your normal neighborhood library branch and some that are more like bookstores–in shopping malls. The article points out that library usage has been increasing steadily (citing the IMLS report that I recently mentioned) and notes that one library mentioned in the article had to increase their storytimes from 2-3 a week to 12 a week at their mall location. Overall the article paints libraries in malls as positive and notes that they’re part of a trend toward convenience and customer satisfaction.
And in general, I think that this form of mild library outreach is a good way to get the library to where the patrons are. Our private spaces are increasingly becoming commercialized and clearly there are a lot of people in shopping malls. Having a mall outlet is a good way for the library to be a part of patrons’ routines in a way they might not be able to as stand-alone buildings.
But I wonder what it means that libraries are stepping up and standing alongside commercial spaces. Will this commercialize the library? Part of the library’s greatness is that everyone is welcome and everyone has (or we strive for them to have) equal access to what we provide. That’s not what commercial enterprise does, and I wonder if people start associating the library with the mall if they’ll start to think of the library differently.
Don’t get me wrong: I think any chance to bring more people into the library or to bring library service to people is great, and having libraries in malls is a great way to capture a different segment of the library’s service population. As long as libraries don’t wind up exclusively in malls, I think it’s a great idea.
But it’s also not without its dangers. One library mentioned in the article rents their space for $1 a year and their programs are sponsored by a local energy company. But to offer another data point, the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library system is facing budget cuts, and one of the two branches that’s on the chopping block in all three plans that involve closing branches is the Glendale branch, which is located in a shopping mall. Even though the Glendale branch has some of the highest circulation and gate-count data, the powers that be are concerned that they’re renting the space rather than purchasing it and having that equity. The library board should be making a decision about how to cope with budget reductions this month.
If libraries can find a good deal in renting a space in a mall, it sounds like that’s a great way to make the library more available to certain people and to raise the library’s visibility in the community. I’m a little concerned about whether or not that might commercialize the library–an organization whose greatest strength lies in its public nature–but so long as libraries aren’t located solely in shopping malls, it sounds like a good opportunity.
The Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) issued a press release today announcing–among other things–that public library visits and circulations per capita had increased 20% from 1999 to 2008 but that the number of librarians per capita had remained the same (about 4 librarians per 25,000 people), so the same number of librarians are handling more patron visits and more circulations. The press release also mentions the availability of computers (doubled in the last ten years), attendance at children’s programming (up 13.9%) and overall programming (up 17.6%), and “the distribution of library outlets by state and geography type” (in 16 states more than 50% of library outlets are in rural areas).
Brian Selznick’s Caldecott Award-winning THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET is being movie-fied by Martin Scorsese; the cast includes Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloë Moretz, Jude Law, Ray Winstone, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Frances de la Tour, and Richard Griffiths. The film is going to be in 3D and production recently began in London. As always I’m nervous about movie adaptations, but I’m really excited about who’s involved with this one so I’m letting myself get my hopes up.
And finally, more book art! This time it’s by Su Blackwell and it’s amazing. These are just a few examples; you’ll have to check out the artist’s gallery for more.
Some people are speaking up for their libraries by making videos. The Monroe County Community School Corporation’s school libraries were recently saved and I’d like to think that the video students, teachers, and the librarian at Templeton Elementary School made of the play they wrote and performed during National Library Week, “The Case of the Missing Librarian,” had something to do with it.
And Laura Graff of Sun Valley High School in California created “Bleeding Libraries,” a vision of what will happen when libraries close due to budget cuts.
I tend to assume that everyone within libraryland is an unconditional library lover and supporter, but another recent YALSA blog post challenged that assumption. Linda Braun, the president of YALSA–the president of YALSA–asked if every library was worth saving.
LWB: Yeah, I get that. We do need to get the word out about the importance of libraries. But here’s the thing I’ve been thinking about. As someone who consults and teaches librarians to be – Should all libraries be saved? I hear horror stories about libraries that provide really bad service and have really bad collections.
Do we want to save those libraries too?
mk: Well, is that the fault of the library itself, or is it symptomatic of leadership within the library or the community?
LWB: Either I suppose, but if we have the rallying cry of save all libraries will that change? Isn’t it a band-aid to save all libraries and then have the same service and same problems keep happening?
Why not save some libraries and be honest about the bad stuff that’s going on in some places?
She does say she’s playing the devil’s advocate and if you keep reading, I think what Linda is saying isn’t so much that some libraries shouldn’t be saved, but that some libraries need a lot of work. And in a small way, I agree that we don’t always turn a critical enough eye to our profession, to what our libraries are doing, and to what they could or should be doing. But especially now when libraries are being threatened, it’s frightening to think that admitting our imperfections–even if we’ve also got a plan to remedy those–might mean the end of our library entirely.
But it’s adults who have power and voice in our society, so we need to be able to talk about why libraries matter and what they do and then take action. Zen College Life gives us 85 reasons to be thankful for libraries and while some are jokey (“Colleges need something to remodel every so often” and “A library is a great excuse to get out of the house (seriously, why would anyone argue with you about it?)”), some really get to the heart of what it is libraries do: we offer free Internet access to people who would otherwise be shut out of the online world, not everything can be found online and librarians can help you find very specific information, we teach children literacy and problem-solving skills. In making lists like these, I think instead of thinking about what libraries do, it’s more helpful to think about what would be missing from the community if the library was gone.
Karl Siewert advocates for the library by infiltrating Instructables, explaining in just a few easy steps how you can get any information you could possibly need (hint: the required materials are a library card and the ability to ask questions).
Jessamyn West also compiled a list of single link advocacy sites supporting libraries in need. If a library in your area is on the list, check out the site and see what you can do.
And while talking on the Internet about how great libraries are has its place, the best way to stand up for your library is through concrete, real-world action. Use your library and give them the circ stats and program attendance numbers they need to make their case. Vote for ballot measures that support library funding. Talk to your legislators and tell them libraries are important to you. The best people to advocate for libraries aren’t librarians–they’re people who aren’t formally associated with the library. We need non-librarians to champion us.
“Ask me about the pest that’s infecting your crop, common skin diseases, how to seek help if your husband beats you or even how to stop having children, and I may have a solution,” says a confident Akhter.
This kind of transformative access to information is awesome on its own, but it’s especially great in a country like Bangladesh where 36% of people live on less than $1 a day and 90% of women give birth at home with no medical assistance. Read more at the original Guardian article.
The Westbury Book Exchange in Somerset, England is billed as the “smallest library in the world” at Offbeat Earth. An old red telephone booth was purchased for £1 and stocked with books, CDs, and DVDs. People bring books they’ve read to swap with what’s in the booth. I love this community-driven love for literacy, but it’s not really a library, is it? The books aren’t in any particular order, much less being cataloged or classified, and there’s no professional staff available to help you find what you want. But it’s gotten me thinking about what makes a library a library–and it’s cute!
There’s still time to apply for YALSA’s mentoring program if you haven’t yet. Experienced public and school librarians working with teens will be paired up with newcomers to the field for mutual learning, encouragement, and awesomeness. Applications are due by the end of this month, so if you’re interested but haven’t finished your application, be sure to do so soon.
And finally, a couple videos. As part of the promotion for GUYS READ: FUNNY BUSINESS, which comes out this September, HarperCollins put together “The Joke,” in which Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, Adam Rex, David Yoo, Paul Feig, Kate DiCamillo, Christopher Paul Curtis, Eoin Colfer, Jack Gantos, David Lubar, and Jeff Kinney–all contributors to the collection–tell a joke about a new kid in school.
I like that the Internet makes authors so much more accessible than they ever have been. There’s exciting stuff like being able to read their blogs, follow them on Twitter, or watch their video blogs, but even just things like this where you get to see what they look like personalizes them in a way that I didn’t really have growing up.
Some students and faculty members at the University of Washington’s Information School show off the braininess and sexiness of library and information science work in “Librarians do Gaga.”
There’s a lot that libraries can do for you including providing fun programs, a quiet place to read or study, homework help, tax forms, technology training, free Internet access, and volunteer opportunities. But there’s something you can do for libraries–and they need your help.
The cuts, which add up to $10.4 million, could also cost New Jersey access to $4.5 million in federal matching funds which, among other things, currently provides internet access for roughly two-thirds of the state’s 306 public libraries.
That’s right: No Internet at the library. Never mind that the public library is the only free internet access in 78 percent of communities, according to the New Jersey Library Association; or that many state agencies have moved their forms on-line.
It’s especially disheartening that this news comes at the beginning of National Library Week. Especially through Internet access, technology training, and database access, libraries are becoming more important, not less. And while everyone needs to make cuts when state budgets get trimmed, libraries are being disproportionately targeted.
Yet another irony is that, of all the villains that have pushed New Jersey to the brink of financial oblivion, libraries simply aren’t one of them. Librarians aren’t represented by powerful unions. Their pay hasn’t escalated at 4 percent to 6 percent a year. Library funding at the state level has been flat for twenty years.
“We have never fed at the trough like public safety and education,” said Robert White, executive director of Bergen County Cooperative Library System, which represents 75 libraries across four counties. “And now we’re being punished for it.”
If you’re in the area, there will be a rally in Trenton on 6 May to demonstrate support for New Jersey libraries. You can also contact legislators, send a letter to the paper, or join supporters on Facebook at Save My NJ Library.
And since it is National Library Week, be sure to tell your own legislators that you support your library. If you’re in Indiana, you can do that online via the Indiana Library Federation. You can also take national action via the ALA website, where they’re asking you to talk to your senator by 14 April (that’s this Wednesday) to express your support for libraries before the Senate Appropriations Committee meets to determine funding for the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries (ILTSL) program in its FY2011 budget.
You can also use the ALA’s Library Value Calculator to see how valuable your local library is to you as a patron–or to your community if you’re a librarian trying to defend your institution.
And finally, if you haven’t yet sent in your Census form, please do so. The number of people in your community determines how federal funds will be allocated, and your library is one of the organizations that will be affected by that funding. While it may not seem like one person really matters, when it comes to the Census, you do.
Finally, the application process for YALSA’s mentoring program began on Monday (here’s the official blog post). They’re looking for librarians who’ve been working with teens in public or school libraries for at least six years to be paired up with new librarians and graduate school students to form a mutually beneficial mentoring relationship. The application forms are due by 30 June and reference forms should be submitted by 7 July. Participants will be notified of their selection in mid-September. I’ve applied and I’m hoping to be selected, but regardless of whether or not I’m invited to participate, I think this is a really cool program and I’m glad YALSA is offering this opportunity not only for new librarians to have guidance, advice, and a source of encouragement, but also to give more seasoned librarians a chance to pass on some of their wisdom and learn new things themselves.