Defunding the Library, or “no funds = no library”

 I have been talking about the need for school and public libraries to continuously improve and stay in step with the needs of students and the general library public. Today’s “Library Link of the Day” touched off an angry “how dare he” reaction in my brain. How uninformed, how out of touch with the library reality must this “letter to the editor writer” be.  The article and especially the comments are here: Pull the plug on the library. Please read the article and the comments. I think most of the comments have sufficiently defended the library. But this kept gnawing away at me. As I was spending some travel time between libraries today I had time to think. My frustration and defensiveness have subsided and a more important and previously written about theme keeps coming back to me.

 If our school students and general public library customers don’t think that the library’s “value” to them is equal to the public funding they are receiving – then funding should be cut or eliminated.

To be clear – this premise is equally true for school and public libraries.  Unfortunately, if I as a library lover, user and participant in the library world could come to that conclusion, then non-users, barely informed taxpayers, school administrators or parents will obviously come to that same conclusion. Based on the deep school and public library funding cuts all around the country, some have already reached that conclusion.

Should we just fold up our tents and go home? Obviously, not. OK then, what to do….

Every library should do three things:

  1. Every library should learn, grow and evolve to continuously provide up to date materials and services for students and customers. I mean, exciting, obvious, in your face, new services. Be couragious – be amazing! When was the last time you said “wow” regarding a service by a library? I also believe collections must include locally generated content: stories, art, music, games, local family and community history and more. When our libraries hold the local and family stories we cherish – the value of the library increases exponentially.
  2. Every library should be “telling their story” to both the existing and currently unserved students and customers. Yes I mean that dreaded “marketing” word. The occassional, semi-monthly paper, snail mail newsletter isn’t good enough.  The single end of the year school library report is unacceptable. Us “book people” are going to have to think like small business people. Nimble, fast, flexible service and support for customers. We need creative, appealing ways to get our message of service and value out to the entire community.
  3. Prove your value“. I think the day will come where we will have to show real, provable evidence of our continuing and growing service in support of our student and customers needs. How many people have been served: front door traffic, outside programming traffic, online traffic, downloads, hits, page views, content streamed, etc…?  I also think we will have to prove the relevance of our materials. How old is it, do we meet customers information needs, how is the collection and content changing based on community demographic shifts? How many groups have met, how many local businesses, churches, nonprofit groups have been helped? Let’s develop the true metrics that show our service and content criteria in support of our customers. Then let’s work to make those metrics get better every day.

As I have stated before, I believe school and public libraries can be the focal points as the places to connect “People to Information” and “People to People” for our school and local communities.

The question might be asked: Which libraries and librarians will be brave enough to do all three steps?

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