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.