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Endangered Community Libraries

April 14, 2010

Monday I was out on The Neverending Shelf, a blog I recently added to my watch list, and happened upon The Fate of Our Libraries, a guest post by Courtney Webb, a children’s librarian and blogger at Stiletto Storytime. I was so impressed by Courtney’s post, I got permission to repost it this week.

But first, I’d like to mention the State of America’s Libraries Report 2010, released by the American Library Association (ALA) on Monday. The picture to the left in no way represents the state of our libraries today. Just thought it’s a fun picture that shows you can’t stop people from going to the library under any circumstances.

Now back to the library report. Before you even get to it on the ALA website, this statement reaches out and begs for your attention.

Recession drives more Americans to libraries in search of employment resources; but funding lags demand.

In the press release, you’ll find that we are flocking to our libraries for more than media. And Americans’ opinions show that we know the value of our libraries.

The report shows the value of libraries in helping Americans combat the recession. It includes data from a January 2010 Harris Interactive poll that provides compelling evidence that a decade-long trend of increasing library use is continuing—and even accelerating during economic hard times. This national survey indicates that some 219 million Americans feel the public library improves the quality of life in their community. More than 223 million Americans feel that because it provides free access to materials and resources, the public library plays an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed.

Yet, my community voted down a tax increase for needed improvements to our libraries, and I’m still bitter about it. I’m there at least once a week and we support paying higher taxes towards such a valuable community resource. Opposition would say libraries take donations. Support them that way. Well, we do that too. Unfortunately, I’ve done more than my fair share of fundraising for worthy causes, and trying to get people to donate during hard economic times ain’t so easy unless they’re backed in a corner as you’ll see in Courtney’s post. It’s a mad catch-22, folks.

And now, here’s more for you to think about on the state of our libraries from Courtney Webb. I ask you to remember her post and the State of America’s Libraries Report the next time you find yourself in the voting booth, faced with a decision to increase funding to your library district.

The Fate of Libraries

by Courtney Webb

Courtney Webb, Children's Librarian and Stiletto Storytime Blogger

In the last year we have all been affected by the recession whether personally or through our business and financial investments. We’ve all had to cut back a bit or at the very least know people who have. Unfortunately in the budget crisis for communities often the first thing to go during tough times is funding for libraries.

For example take the Charlotte, NC Public Library system, which announced recently that due to a reduction in the Mecklenburg County budget was told to shut down 12 library branches and lay off over 140 employees. This was a rather personal case for me since this is the system in which I started my library career. My first job as a children’s librarian was at one of their most needed branches in a low-income area of Charlotte. A branch that was so dear to the community for a plethora of reasons. The computer lab provided access to an area where most individuals could not afford a home computer. This meant quite simply no access at the library equaled no computer access period. Imagine the effects of that when kids could no longer do homework or research, adults could not work on improving their computer skills or even search for jobs in this critical time. This branch was also across the street from the local high school and provided a refuge for teens after school keeping them out of trouble and in a safe environment.

Unfortunately it was also a community whose children were the least introduced to books and the magic of reading. Storytimes and programming were crucial to that though it was often hard to make parents understand the need. There were Summer Reading Programs were I had children come simply because I offered food and they had not had lunch that day because they had simply been dropped off at the library. This library was a haven in this community and was to be shut down within a few weeks of the announcement. The community was stunned.

However that did not happen and the reason is that the people spoke. The residents of Charlotte protested and gave their own money to try and help the library budget in a grassroots effort that saved the 12 libraries from closure and some of the staff from unemployment. Unfortunately the majority of those let go were librarians since they had the larger salaries because of their educational background and experience. This was also because the libraries were now trying to focus on the most basic of services. This generally is circulation and simply getting books in and out, something which requires only a high school degree and which has a much smaller hourly wage. All of the county’s libraries will now also run on reduced hours and all employees took a large pay reduction. And yet the future is still not clear since predictions are that the budget will once again go down in 2011.

What does this say about the future of libraries and librarians? To me it says that when times get tough sometimes our leaders are willing to sacrifice what we need most. They will let go of what does not make a profit and looks like a loss on a spreadsheet. Libraries and librarians may not look good on a spreadsheet but chart their efforts and contributions to the community. Libraries are the ultimate equalizer. They provide information to everyone and information is power. These libraries that have been saved may be open but with far less qualified employees running them. When a patron enters a library they may not realize that there are very few actual librarians. Librarians are trained individuals with Masters Degrees in Library Science who have studied the art of knowledge and the keys to finding it. It’s sad they are now being laid on the altar in the name of saving a few dollars. The library may be open but at what cost? Who is now doing the story time or running the reference desk? Are they qualified and are you and your family getting the best service possible?

This Library Week I ask you to remember the library, library staff and librarians in your communities. Please use your voice and make sure that everyone knows their worth so that the travesty that has taken place in Charlotte does not happen in your community.

* * * * * *

Thanks so much to Courtney Webb for allowing us to repost The Fate of Libraries, and thanks to Kate over at The Neverending Bookshelf for all your help in making this repost possible.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2010 7:48 am

    Wow! I had no idea a community would close their library from lack of funding. We’re incredibly fortunate to live in an area that can support the library and I shudder to think what would happen to all of those communities if their branches were to close.

    Thanks so much for sharing this re-post, Wendy. It was an eye-opener to say the very least.

    • April 15, 2010 11:23 am

      My favorite part of the post was the community coming together to save the library branches. I just hate that people too often have to reach a point of possibly losing something valuable before they’ll act.

  2. April 14, 2010 5:27 pm

    Thought provoking! A great find, Wendy. Hopefully, my own meagre post will complement this.

    • April 15, 2010 11:27 am

      I’d say it does. Those doomsayers are always seeking fears to feed on, and ever changing technology seems to do the trick. Luckily, they remain a minority.

  3. April 14, 2010 6:15 pm

    Wow is exactly what I just thought too! That’s an incredible story from Courtney on the library system in Charlotte, especially how the community rallied. Terrific post, Wendy, thanks for sharing it. Makes us all think about something so dear that we tend to take for granted.

    I’m off to check out The Neverending Shelf. I love the name and especially the idea! (BTW, I also loved that black and white shot you included of my living room…. housekeeping is not my specialty.) 😉

    • April 14, 2010 8:32 pm

      Too funny! Considering I’ve been to your house, I have to disagree. Every time I come by you say “Oh, the house is such a mess…” and yet it never looks like mine with boxes and piles of stuff waiting to be put away!

      • April 15, 2010 2:38 pm

        Just don’t open any closed doors or drawers and we can keep up that little charade. 😉

    • April 15, 2010 11:30 am

      LOL! I hate to see what your kitchen looks like.

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