Tuesday, June 29, 2010

State Of The Libraries Address

Today is Library Advocacy Day here in the States, which will entail a rally and a meeting with elected officials in Washington D.C. Meghan has a really nice post up about it over at her blog, Recreational Reading, which includes some library factoids you may not be aware of.

I don't spend a lot of blog space talking about my job. Admittedly I know the "librarian thing" makes me ever-so-slightly unique among the blogging masses, but it's not something I discuss in great detail. I have loads of reasons for this, but at the end the day it comes down to me knowing my place in the universe. I truly believe my job is important, that libraries are important, and that librarians help change lives for the better every day. But do I think my job is "more important" than say, that of a firefighter, a police officer, a nurse, a teacher, or a garbage man? Not really. I understand my place in the universe, and I know that in economic crap times like we're experiencing right now, that libraries are going to get the short end of the stick, no matter how "important" we are. It's the nature of the beast.

That being said, as the Unofficial Librarian Representative of Romance Bloglandia, plus because I want to, I thought I would talk about what my work as a collection development librarian is like right now. What with our new fiscal year beginning next week.

It's going to suck.

It's going to suck so hard that I'm probably going to lose fillings.

Currently, where I work, we are not cutting hours, all branches are staying open, and we haven't cut permanent staff. What has happened? We have no "substitute" help to speak of. So if your children's librarian goes out on maternity leave, or the branch manager's appendix bursts, there are no substitute workers you can call in to help you run your branch. So yeah, it's great we haven't cut hours or closed branches, but in many cases we're majorly short-staffed. Also? Our materials budget will be slashed by over 50% this new fiscal year. Yes, I will somehow have to figure out how to buy books for 30+ libraries with 50% less money than I had last year.

If you see me in the hotel bar at RWA in a few weeks, and I'm sobbing uncontrollably over my cosmopolitan, this would be why.

The truth of the matter is that I wasn't buying nearly the amount of titles and copies I should have been for a library system our size. We were making due. In many cases, as a library user, you might not find the book you wanted at your local branch, but chances are we had it in the system somewhere and could ship it over to you. Or if we didn't own it at all, we would do our best to buy a copy(s). This next year? Yeah. Well, I'm going to have to make hard choices. Some books are just not going to get bought. Period. I'm going to have to say no to some things. I'm going to have to cut way down on how many copies get ordered. And that means people will have to wait even longer than they were waiting before.

In the grand scheme of things, I shouldn't be whining. As bad as it is for my employer, there are neighboring libraries who have it a lot worse. I've heard everything from cutting hours, closing branches to...brace yourselves for it...no materials budget. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. As in no money to buy books, DVDs, CDs, ebooks, newspapers, magazines, etc. at all. None. Zero. Ain't happening.

Which ultimately means, of course, that those people who typically use the surrounding libraries will likely land on our doorstep. Because while our budget is gonna blow, at least we'll be buying some new things. Uh, occasionally. When I find some change under couch cushions.

The nature of this post isn't for you, the gentle blog reader, to feel sorry for me (poor, poor Wendy ::eyeroll::), but to help you understand what it's like right now for the library community. God bless librarians, we're a lot like romance readers. We have a massive inferiority complex and it's one of the few jobs on the planet where we constantly have to justify our right to exist. The only thing that really works in our favor is that people generally have warm, fuzzy feelings about the library. Only a monster would come right out and say, "I hate libraries." It would be liking saying you hate puppies, kittens, rainbows, and pretty flowers. So in hard times, as politicians look for ways to slash budgets, the community does tend to support and rally around public libraries.

If you ever want to see democracy in action, just wander into your local library. It's the one place in the community that is open and free for all. We serve everybody. The entire public. Even the folks we don't like all that much. Because it's our job. It's what we do. And certainly there are some days when we want to toss all the computers out the front door and run over them with a Hummer, but we don't. Because for all the aggravation, all the trials, deep down we know our job is important. And we'll justify the hell out of it until the last breath leaves our body.

So be nice to your local librarian the next time you see them. Smile at the clerk who checks out your books. Don't argue about that 25 cent overdue fine. Don't lie to us and say you didn't leave that book out in the rain, you checked it out like that and just pay the replacement fee. Try to understand that we're doing the best we can with what we have to work with (which isn't much!) while trying to meet the growing demands of communities that are relying on us more and more.

That's the state of libraries right now. Overworked, stressed out staff trying to figure out how we're going to meet the needs of the community. Actually not that different from a lot of other public service jobs at the moment. Sad to say.

21 comments:

Library Blog said...

Hi Wendy, I totally feel your pain!! here in tiny little Canal Fulton, Ohio we cut our materials budget by half 2 years ago and our hours last december..its so sad cause our circ numbers have tripled..

Elizabeth said...

What a great post! I'm a medical librarian, so I'm not feeling the budget crunch quite as much as the rest of the library world (whose going to deprive doctors of their books?), but it's still there. My budget is always the first to be cut.

Thanks for posting this on behalf of all the librarians out there. We need to be reminded how awesome we are. Because "We have a massive inferiority complex and it's one of the few jobs on the planet where we constantly have to justify our right to exist". I have to justify my job to the entire hospital everyday.

Have fun at RWA btw, I'm super jealous!

lustyreader said...

ive seen like 15 or more women in big red tshirts that say "Vote For Libraries" on the metro and around DC the past day or two. I just want to hug them. It's that warm fuzzy thing you were talking about ;)

also, my library weekday hours were cut and most branches are now closed on sundays :(

Anonymous said...

Our finances are about to be taken over by the folks over at the county offices July 1 and we don't yet know all the ways it will effect us. Anything we get over $250 will have to be approved by them first. Our materials budget is about the same, but we have been short-handed forever.

Mollie said...

Also, if you are a library advocate you can always contact your local and state government officials and ask that they support the libraries.

When Ohio's Governor tried to cut the library budget by an additional 20% (above the statewide 30% cut of all agencies), library advocates all over the state bombarded the Governors office with phone calls, letters, and even staged a rally.

It worked, instead of the 50% cut he proposed we got the "standard" 30% cut that other entities were getting.

This past election there were a TON of local library levies on the ballot and most of them passed.

So don't discount your power as a voter/taxpayer!

Also, you can always find out if your local library has a "Friends of the Library". I just joined mine, don't know why I didn't sooner...it only cost me $15!

BBL said...

I hate Libraries. And puppies. So there.

Ann Bruce said...

Wendy, does your library not do fund raisers and such? Doesn't it have a list of donors to hit up? I only ask because my own library sends me reminders every year to write them a cheque or hand over my credit card--and I do it because I LOVE my library. It was my only source of non-school-related reading material as a kid.

Ann Bruce said...

Also, my library--and most charities--include an explanation of the how the tax credits play out for donations. It's really hard not to open your wallet when you see donating $1000 will only cost you $550.

BBL said...

Unfortunately Wendy, with our current economic crisis, real or percieved, we're all gonna take a hit. Since Libraries are not big campaign finance machines it's gonna happen to you. There needs to be a push from your side to remind people the importance of Libraries. Remind the folks what we lost with the Libary of Alexandria, if we forget the knowledge we've gained it's a detriment to our children and grandchildren and beyond. You have to find the right politicians to sell this to and make them believe it can help them get re-elected.

Wendy said...

Ann: Oh lord, I could talk all day about library fundraising red tape - but I'll spare everybody here :)

We do have several Friends Of The Library organizations who do a ton of fundraising for us - usually supplementing materials budgets for their individual branches. And yes, if you donate to libraries? Tax deductible. Even if you just take your unwanted paperbacks in for the Friends to sell in their used bookstores. Be sure to ask for a receipt! You can claim that when you file every April 15!

Wendy said...

Library Blog: Hey! I know Canal Fulton! My folks grew up in that part of the world :)

Elizabeth: In a previous life I thought I wanted to be a medical librarian. I sort of fell into public libraries "by accident" and it stuck. But yeah, I hear you on the justifying. My Mom is a nurse and the hospital that employs her let go of their librarian several years back. Sigh.

Lusty: A ton of the surrounding libraries have cut hours around us. We're trying to maintain ours for a variety of reasons, but it has been a strain given the staff shortages....

Anon: Oh lordy - good luck! We went through a "reorganization" within the last year and it has been...interesting. To say the very least!

Mollie: Similar situation happened in South Carolina recently. Governor wanted to slash library funding, people got all het up, contacted their elected officials, and the proposed measure died in the legislature.

And Ohio has had one of (if not THE) premier library system in the US for years and years. It's really a jewel.....

BBL: Comic Book Guy? Is that you? If it is, I need to call your wife this weekend!

The cuts to the L.A. library system(s) (there are 2 - county and city) have been all over the news out here. Where I am? Not quite so much yet. Although I suspect that will change rather quickly once the impact of this new fiscal year begins to be felt.....

catie james said...

I can't even put into words how much I love libraries, librarians, and the job you all do. Every time I hear about budget cuts to library systems (especially those in schools), I become sick to my stomach.

~ames~ said...

I love my library and I've noticed each month the new books they get are fewer and fewer. Which is not good.

It really sucks, for everyone.

Liza said...

Doesn't look like my libraries have taken a hit yet. Usually they have the new hours up by now if they are changing. Guess if they took a hit in the budget, it will be in the book/cd/dvd buying budget or help at the libraries.

I try to donate books several times a year to the library. Some get put on the shelves, while others are sold to help buy more new books.

Karen J. said...

I'm the librarian for a small upstate NY school district. This coming school year none of my 500 K-12 students will see a new book in either of their school libraries... because my book budget is $0. Yes, it completely sucks. I'm a little bitter about it. Just a smidge, you know...

Wendy said...

Catie: The decline has been slow, torturous and particularly frustrating for school libraries. The school districts in my area that still have school libraries/librarians are a rarity these days. And it's really, really sad.

Ames: I'm still trying to figure out what I'm going to do. Order fewer copies and fewer titles all the way around. Sit on stuff and make a "wish list." See how it all shakes out....

Liza: Could be their budget year is different too. My job in Michigan, we went by calender year. Where I work now we do fiscal year - so it starts anew in July. With the way the real estate market has been we suspected this year would suck - and sadly we weren't wrong.

Karen: What has been allowed to happen to our school libraries is a travesty. Period. And it doesn't say anything good about the current state of our educational system either....

Sarah said...

And certainly there are some days when we want to toss all the computers out the front door and run over them with a Hummer, but we don't.

That is so, so the truth.

Great post Wendy! In my little corner of Colorado, voters will be facing three anti-tax measures come November. If all 3 pass, my library system will lose 30% of its funding and will have to face closing all the branches. If even one or two passes, we are still in deep trouble. I feel most certain that unfortunately, come January, my job will be removed from me. I've only been on staff her a year and a half so I'm definitely on the lower totem pole. It's so unfortuante because my community is poor and they need these resources, but... they will be going away. I'm trying to remain hopeful but in this anti-tax environment it is very, very hard.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

It is now my dream to start a charitable foundation whose sole mission is to fund libraries. To help systems like New Orleans and small one-building libraries like one near me that was destroyed by flooding.

I've been playing with this idea for awhile now. I really wish I could make it happen... it's really important to me.

Susan said...

Amen, sister! I'm not a librarian, but I'm a library user and lover. The library loves me as well because I tend to rack up nice, fat fines :)

I think those of us who are bloggers are also in a prime position to help our libraries - I get hundreds of books for free every year. Guess where the majority of them go? Either to my kids' school library or to the public library. I figure it's the least I can do.

Best of luck to you!

shayera said...

I feel your pain. And you know where I am, so you know how bad it is.
I am Pollyanna enough to believe we'll get through this. It's going to be bad for quite a while. But we'll get through it. Somehow.

Wendy said...

Sarah: It's especially tough in poor/working class neighborhoods where the library serves as an anchor and provides valuable access to information. All you can do is try to educate them on how these tax measures will adversely impact their access to the library - and hope for the best. Good luck!

Susan: I live in the land of earthquakes, but honestly I think floods have the most devastating impact on libraries. They destroy everything (hello mold, mildew etc.) and you're left starting from the ground up.

Susan: When I was still "out there" working with the public, I think I was solely responsible for developing my library's romance paperback collection. I was still doing heavy-duty reviewing at the time, so pretty much any final copy I got to review, go added to the collection. And I added some pretty darn good reads....

Shayera: We always do seem to muddle through don't we? But then we also spend years after whatever crisis trying to get back what we lost. I'm still uncovering gaping holes in our collection from previously terrible fiscal years, and now we've got another one ahead of us? Ugh! Best of luck sweets. Yes, I do know how bad it is for you right now :(