“So……..Why do people think so little of libraries???”
I received this simple email response from a colleague the other day as her reply to a PA State Senate press release that included a possible 50% funding cut to public libraries for the next fiscal year. I know that this is just gamesmanship and politics….. this so called budget proposal…..but really….a 50% proposed cut???
So…the question still stands: Why do people think so little of libraries???
You say: “But wait… people LOVE their library”. I have come to believe that this is only partially true. Some people, in fact, I would argue a rather small group of people, passionately love their library. The honest truth is a vast majority of people don’t love libraries. Some of the people might: like libraries, think good thoughts about libraries, believe libraries should be around, think libraries are worthwhile places at least for some other people ……blah, blah, blah.
In todays real world - both school and public libraries are losing funding for materials and staffing. As material costs, operating and staffing costs all increase – real funding is either flat or declining….nationwide. Sure you can find a few exceptions, but the plain truth is – library funding cuts are nearly everywhere. Library branch closings, hours reductions, staff layoffs, equipment breakdowns and old or outdated technology…..these stories are out there. At the same time, there have been truly hundreds of stories nationwide about how busy public libraries have become due to the challenges people face in these difficult economic times. Likewise school libraries face unprecedented librarian and support staff layoffs and purchasing holds. Many schools don’t have a full time library or librarian and some schools have no operating library at all.
I believe the truth is ….. a majority of people don’t believe that libraries are worth the sufficient investment of real dollars. Not tax revenue funding, not dedicated millage funding and certainly not as a pay for services facility.
My thoughts about…..WHY?
1) Some people hold a perception of libraries as that place where an old spinster hissed….”SHHHHH” ….in a place filled with musty old books….you know – old ancient, smelly history kind of a place.
2) Some people think library = books….and since they don’t read books…..then libraries are useless.
3) Some people, especially “millenials”… you know – those “kids” who are always texting on cell phones and have those IPod thingies stuck in their ears, well they think libraries are useless, because they are always connected to their friends, their music and any information they need 24/7 based on their tech toys and so they don’t need libraries.
4) Some people think libraries are just for kids, parents/grandparents of young children and of course “senior citizens”.
5) Some people are too busy to go to the library. You know, they hang out with friends or family, party, go shopping, go places, spend time just always busy. Oh yeah…they have to work and commute and do other stuff too. But the library – not enough time to go there.
6) Politicians, government managers, state authorities – all those folks in power – they just see libraries and librarians as a small, nonpolitical, poorly funded, unimportant and powerless group of folks who can’t help to get them elected or improve their public image.
7) School administrators see library programs and staff as a possible expense line that “can” be cut in a budget too filled with expense lines that can’t be touched. Library and arts programs are always the first to feel any school budget cuts. Because school libraries aren’t viewed as an effective tool to raise achievement test scores - they are seen as an easy place to cut budgets.
8) Active, outdoors type folks, you know….camping, hiking, hunting, fishing….they spend more time doing, than reading. Besides, the last time I checked libraries for anything current in those subject areas, the materials were all decades old.
9) Sports is a big deal. There are professional sports, college and high school sports, recreation leagues, little leagues and even “fantasy” leagues. Sports represents billions of dollars to our economies, hundreds of hours of our time and of course sports can become a major part of the culture and the psyche of a city or community. When was the last time you saw a serious “sports” affiliation with sports participants or sports leagues and libraries???
10) Google and the internet. Can anyone who reads this say they don’t use the internet and Google for at least one of their primary sources of quick, basic information?????? Your reading this on your computer aren’t you?
11) Librarians are “book” people. Because a significant amount of librarians are altruistic, thoughtful, introverted and somewhat reluctant to be controversial and highly visible – they tend to be ineffective library advocates. How else can you explain someone holding a masters degree from any number of major universities and then only making $25,000 – $50,000 per year with lousy benefit packages???
12) Libraries as “place”. Many libraries are: small, old, dark, not comfortable, not welcoming, filled with at least a significant amount of outdated content, information or formats. There is typically insufficent space for small or large group meetings. Not to mention actual gathering places where anything above a whisper tone is tolerated. Oh, and what about the no cell phone rules. That alone eliminates nearly everyone who is between 15 and 40 years old. Why is it I have to go to Panera Bread restaurants to attend comfortable and productive library meetings???
OK….now that we know at least some of the folks who might not care about libraries, whos is left who cares???
The easy ones are: most librarians, anybody who loves books, many small children, parents who support the experience of reading and programs for their kids. You also have to add all those folks who are fortunate enough to live in those communities with vibrant, exciting, relevant libraries with wonderful content, staff and a comfortable welcoming environment and then use their library. Teachers, small business people, many salespeople and road warriors are included. Community groups like: history buffs, garden clubs, some social groups, and all manor of “boomers” are included. Studying students and all those looking for a “quiet, peaceful place” come and enjoy. I know there are many more…..
So how do we reconcile this very wide gap between those who love and are willing to support libraries financially and those who don’t love libraries and won’t support them??? A very successful librarian recently mentioned that anyone who can answer and close this gap for libraries would be very busy, travel extensively and live comfortably on their own tropical island. Hmmmm a nice thought indeed………..
A few thoughts next time……. the ideas are embeded above, until then….. try to be great! It takes courage…..you can do it!