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…)
The theme for the second hour of today’s Diane Rehm Show was “the changing role of public libraries.” Diane’s guests included John Hill, the president of the DC Public Libraries Board of Trustees and the CEO of the Federal City Council; Sari Feldman, the executive director of the Cuyahoga (OH) County Public Library and the president of PLA; and Camila Alire, the president of ALA. I was so glad that public libraries were getting some national PR and was really looking forward to hearing about what the leaders of our associations think about where public libraries should be going–but I was a little bit disappointed.
The discussion centered a lot around the financial troubles public libraries are facing and the employment-related services public libraries are providing like resume reviews, career counseling, and online application assistance. There were also questions from listeners about using more volunteers, what the Kindle is doing to libraries, and why the library provides DVDs, but most of the callers were vocally pro-library and it was only at the end that we heard from a few more people who had challenges they wanted the panel to answer (like the guy asking about the library providing DVDs as entertainment).
While I’m happy that listeners of the show are now thinking about public libraries, I don’t think the panelists did a very good job of describing what libraries are like now and how that’s changed recently, why libraries should continue to exist, and what library lovers can do to support their libraries.
From what Diane said, it seemed like she supported public libraries in principle but hadn’t actually been to one in ages. And I’m guessing plenty of listeners are unfamiliar with how libraries have changed since they used their school or university libraries, though they may have residual positive feelings from those times. But things have changed substantially in the last ten to twenty years with the advent of computers and the Internet. Gone are the days when you called the reference desk of your local public library when you couldn’t remember who played the supporting role in a movie and needed to settle an argument with your friend–now we have Wikipedia and IMDb. Gone are the days when the librarian was the only one who could really use the card catalog to find the specific book you wanted–now we have keyword searching and the ability to order books from other branches through the online catalog. Gone are the days when if you were moving to a new city you went to the library to research school districts–now we have Google and school corporation websites.
But so many people who used the library for those things and now see the Internet as filling those information needs instead think that means that libraries are now completely irrelevant. They don’t see that libraries have changed with the times and are meeting new information needs (like teaching tech literacy) and meeting the same information needs for different people (like those who don’t have Internet connections or computers at home and are now shut out of things like job applications, unemployment benefit applications, even gun permit renewals).
One of the major evolutions in how libraries see themselves is the movement toward being community centers, as a “third place.” Libraries are also places where teens receive support in developing their 40 Developmental Assets, where very young children gain pre-literacy skills, where young people and older people can work together in intergenerational activities and learn from each other. And as computers become more pervasive and more necessary in day-to-day life, it falls to libraries to help people learn to use emerging technology, especially among older people or underprivileged people. The library is so much more than books and services that have been supplanted by the Internet, but not everyone knows that–especially the people who no longer use their libraries or who receive crummy library service from individual libraries that aren’t changing with the times.
The panelists on the show mentioned some of these things briefly, but there was no time at which they addressed the big changes that libraries have gone through in how they see themselves and what they provide. There was no unified message, no vision of the past and the present and a hope for the future. I don’t think they made a good case (outside of their listing of job search assistance libraries provide) for why the library is relevant today.
And really, I think that’s a problem that a lot of librarians have. I think we get really wrapped up in our own vision of the library, our own values, our own knowledge of our changing circ stats and gate counts that we don’t do a good job of seeing what it is that other people want or value and using that framework to explain why the library matters.
This was most evident when the caller asked why the government-funded library was providing DVDs and entertainment and not just informational books. The panelists talked about how their circulation statistics include lots of print materials still and how it’s so great that you don’t have to pay to rend DVDs when you can just get them for free at your library! That’s not what that guy wanted to hear. He wanted to know why entertainment needs are important enough for the government to support them, why the library is about more than just books. And no one answered that, and there’s no way he became a convert and a library supporter from that conversation.
That’s not to say that it’s not awesome that you can borrow movies for free–it is–it’s just that it’s not what that guy needed to hear right then for him to understand libraries as relevant or worth his tax dollars. Business men want to hear about the research services libraries can provide that are relevant to them. Parents want to hear about what the library can offer them and their children. People who aren’t big on reading but are huge knitters want to hear that the library offers knitting classes or at the very least meeting rooms where knitting clubs can meet. When we’re trying to make a case for the library, we need to understand the values of the person or people we’re trying to convince and show them why the library’s mission and work in the community fits within those values.
The other thing about the program that I found most disappointing was that while there were many times the panelists asked listeners who loved their libraries to be library advocates, there was very little concrete instruction on how to do that. It’s true that people need to do more than just love the library if the library is facing budget cuts or branch closings, and I’m glad the panelists were encouraging action–they just didn’t actually provide any examples of action.
If you love libraries, you can write letters to your legislators to let them know what the library has done for you to improve your life. If you love libraries, you can attend rallies to show your support for them. If you love libraries, you can make a donation of your time, your books, or your money to your library. If you love libraries and you have some social standing in your community, you can talk to people in power or raise money for the library. And within specific communities, there are more specialized needs that libraries have that they should publicize to their supporters. People within the library world need to be specific in telling supporters within the community what they can do to help, because those supporters don’t know the system the way we do and don’t necessarily see where they can help.
I was really happy that public libraries got national attention on this show and that the panelists did such a good job of talking about how the job search services that libraries provide make libraries relevant. But I really would have liked to see a more comprehensive message about how libraries have changed in the last few decades, why libraries are still relevant today, and what library lovers can do for their libraries. I suppose it’s up to individual librarians and libraries to become better advocates for themselves and to spread the word and cultivate support.
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.
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.
I received an email today via the IU SLIS listserv about the continuing struggle against school funding cuts in Monroe County. An independent group is planning a rally on 10 April to recruit volunteers to pass a funding referendum. I haven’t been able to find freely accessible news posts about the rally, but most of the information is reproduced on the Bloomington Moms Meetup Group. The proposed funding cuts would, among other things, eliminate all elementary and middle school librarian positions, leaving just one high school librarian.
And Monroe County is not alone. It’s happening in Connecticut, in New Jersey, in Arizona, and in California, too. In fact, all across the country, school library services and staff are being cut or professional librarians are being replaced with paraprofessionals. This Google Map (created by someone listed only as Shonda) shows “a nation without school librarians”–places where certified school librarian positions are to be eliminated or where librarians will have to work across multiple schools. If this is happening near you and it’s not represented on the map, be sure to update it. And stop by and tell Edi of Crazy Quilts what school libraries have meant to you.