There is no humor in this month’s dispatch. My apologies in advance. Your irregularly scheduled bits of odd library observations will return next week.
If you’re still reading, then chances are you either like libraries or you Google’d library porn, and you’re still hoping to find some hidden in the text below.
For the past year, the institutes that boldly sit as a cornerstone to every metro city and even most small towns have been threatened. Unlike police and fire protection, there are many who believe public libraries are a luxury and not a necessity to cities—people who believe when money is a bit harder to find, then you simply close the library doors for a couple days. I hope you are not one of them.
This dispatch is by no means political, but I want you to consider the message that many politicians are proposing to fix the economy, which is train the unemployed new skills; now consider how to train them without libraries. Community college and state universities are wonderful places, but not always ideal for the average laborer who just needs a lesson in how to use the Internet so they can even fill out the thousands of job applications that are exclusively online.
You’re on the Internet and obviously know how to do at least some navigation. There is a huge percentage of Americans who don’t even know how to use a mouse, and that’s one of the millions of everyday people that the librarians in your cities serve. A part of every public librarian wishes their job consisted of sitting around all day reading and recommending books; the fact is most of our job is actually centered around helping people open email accounts, create résumés, and attach résumés to e-mail.
Contrary to popular belief, the job of a librarian has absolutely nothing to do with books; the job of a librarian is to help people find information, and information comes in several different forms. It could be a student writing a term paper needing to know how to find information on the term Volkerwanderung, or who simply wants to find the name of the latest Grisham—but more than likely, at least in recent years, it’s the unemployed worker needing information on how to write a résumé or find a job.
There are a lot of people who have been going into public libraries over the past few months, and have not noticed a huge change; most libraries have tried to keep the changes as transparent as possible—things like reducing hours of part-time staff, eliminating some of the less popular programs, not replacing librarians who have retired, or only ordering one copy of a bestseller instead of two. Some libraries have had to face more extreme measures.
Seattle’s entire library system was closed for a week. Philadelphia posted notices at all locations stating that if the state legislature did not act on the city’s budget request then all of its libraries would shut down on October 2, even after already reducing their service hours. Fortunately, just weeks before the scheduled closure, a resolution was reached to save the library—at least for this year.
These are just two of the extreme examples, but almost every library in the country is suffering from budget cuts, and they won’t get better unless people voice their concerns; this year you’ll probably see a lot less part-time staff wandering round the shelf to help you; next year you may stop seeing your library opened on weekends/evenings or even open at all. Several times a month, I read a story about a library system that has to cut back the number of hours they are opened to the public to save money.
Personally I have lost over 50% of my hours. But this dispatch isn’t about me. Librarians can survive without libraries—we are a well-educated group and can do other things if need be. Libraries are vital and sacred institutes, and the question you should be asking is, do you really want your city to go without one?
I keep reading articles that say something along the lines of “People flock to in times of economic crisis” and all I can think is, that’s great if they can find a way to keep them open. It’s true that people are coming in record numbers. In the fifteen years I have worked in libraries, I have never seen them busier. The problem is more and more people are coming in stressed and upset; they need jobs, they are on the verge of bankruptcy, and they need help—and libraries don’t have the funding to help them. It’s not uncommon to see every computer (over sixty) taken at my branch, and only one person to help everyone—on top of this there’s usually a line several people deep of people who need non-computer help; obviously you cannot give people the help they deserve with this ratio. If you’ve been to a library lately, then you probably recognize this as a common tale.
If you don’t believe me, then visit your local library and ask staff how the branch has been affected; I imagine they’ll have a lot to tell you.
Libraries don’t earn money for a city, but they do earn a city pride; they enrich lives; and most importantly, they help people get the skills they need to reenter the work force. In hard times, they shouldn’t have limited service hours—they should have expanded services hours. When a person goes to a library to get help seeking employment, and they see a notice on the door that says that due to cutbacks the library is not open, it only adds to the persons frustration that there is no hope or places to go for the help that they need.
I’ll stop the gloom here. At the very least, I hope you consider that your 20¢ fine may actually be helping provide better service, instead of demanding to see a supervisor because you feel it’s unfair. Actually, how about you don’t complain to anyone at the library—if you don’t like the libraries service, then please complain to some public official that matters and ask them (beg them) to give libraries more funding, so they won’t be the latest in a long list of libraries that just aren’t making it, and have to cut back hours and close branches to stay afloat.
Spread the word. If you approve this dispatch (or even if you hate it, but you like libraries) then start a Twitter trend—just tweet #savethelibrary.