Why do people think so little of libraries???

May 12, 2009



“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 Library branch closings, hours reductions, staff layoffs, equipment breakdowns and old or outdated technology…..these stories are out there.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!


Public Libraries – jobs, social services and funding, oh my.

February 26, 2009

People need real help!

Where to turn???  Things keep getting worse.

Example: The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania has climbed to 6.7 percent  from 4.9 percent a year ago. The state has processed an average of 46,000 initial claims a week since Jan. 1, a 52 percent increase over last year.

As the struggling economy continues to cause the loss of thousands of more jobs each month, public libraries have become the essential provider of  resources, advice clinics, access to online job search and online social service applications for those seeking employment and help in this time of need.

Public libraries around the country are partnering with profit and non-profit groups to create advice clinics, counseling sessions and additional resources for topics like: employment and career, home foreclosure and access to social services. Norman Oder at Library Journal Online has these examples:

NYPL Session Helping Laid-Off Professionals Draws Crowd 

At San Diego County Library, Foreclosure Clinics Draw a Crowd

The computer access that public libraries provide for internet service for the online completion of job applications and social services is critical to those who have no access or have discontinued their personal online web access due to a lack of funds.  From E-government to E-job-hunting

Now you may ask, how can libraries continue to expand their services and resources for their struggling communities?  The answer lies in an expanded effort to better partner with community groups and your funding partners. See the advice here from Stephen Abram on Funding resources for libraries.

During difficult times – great libraries work smarter, get more creative, develop new partnerships and most importantly – stay focused on the specific needs of their communities. 


American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – for Libraries

February 21, 2009

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act  – we must fight for funding projects for libraries. In these critical and challenging economic times, libraries deserve some funding from the stimulus bill. It won’t happen automatically. See below.


The ALA has created a webpage with critical and timely information about the available funding as well as the mechanisms for advocating the use of the funds for libraries. There are very specific programs from which funding could be used to support library programs.

ALA – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act info site is here:  http://preview.tinyurl.com/dandmb    

Besides the opportunities listed on the ALA website, both school and public libraries should consider unique and new partnerships wth each other. The Federal Education Dept. is looking for and willing to fund – innovative and unique new programs that will support student learning and improve workforce readiness.

I have previously listed some good ways that school and public libraries can and should work together. The posts are here:  School and Public Libraries Work! (Together would be best) Part 1  and here: School and Public Libraries Work! Part 2  Maybe your school and public library could sit down together now and create a plan for a partnership program including requird costs.  Submit those plans to your State Dept of Education for funding consideration. The A.R.R.A plan is to begin funnding within 60-90 days.

Please act now. Don’t miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity to greatly improve your school and public library partnership.

The 21st-Century Librarian – Video

February 19, 2009

Everybody who cares about articulating the message and advocating for children’s librarians should watch this video. For every librarian who feels that their library funding is insufficient to allow them to run a great library program, read the full story linked below as well as watch the video. 

Ms. Rosalia is an elementary school librarian, but her message and impact can happen in any library  – middle school, high school or a public library.  When she was hired to be the school librarian, Ms. Rosalia introduced herself to her fellow school colleagues as the “information literacy teacher”. Excellence starts with just one person.


The 21st-Century Librarian – Video Library – The New York Times
Published: February 19, 2009
School librarians like Stephanie Rosalia have transformed into multi-faceted information specialists who guide students through the flood of digital information that confronts them on a daily basis.

The full NY Times article can be found here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/16/books/16libr.html?em 

A lack of traditional library  funding never really prevents a great library program, only small thinking can do that. What is holding your library program back?


Libraries are Changing – school library presentation

February 13, 2009


Libraries Are Changing  – a presentation at the Woodland Hills School District 2/13/09.  Understanding the significant shifts affecting school libraries. How should libraries work to support improved student achievement. Collaboration with the public library is important.


The library defined – “Connected to Knowledge”

January 17, 2009

Hey library friends….I think this video might be a good way to show how a “connected” library might: be a center for knowledge, sharing and collaborating to improve the quality of life in their community and beyond. There is a great line in the video: “cause a ripple”.  This is a “how” and “why” video.

Discover What You Know  


Recession + Unemployment = New Beginnings at the Library

January 16, 2009

 The national unemployment figures keep going up and up……

Job losses hit 2.6 million as layoff pain deepens

Jeannine Aversa, AP Economics Writer   “A staggering 2.6 million jobs disappeared in 2008, the most since World War II, and the pain is only getting worse with 11 million Americans out of work and searching. Unemployment hit a 16-year high of 7.2 percent in December and could be headed for 10 percent or even higher by year’s end. “

 We have read all the stories how unemployed or financially strapped families and individuals have been flocking to their local public library. What are they doing???  Using the computers – scanning for and applying for new jobs, reading and learning about new skills, new career options and just plain reading, listening or watching videos to help take their minds off of their worries.

 With all of these traditional offerings at the library – maybe libraries can also offer unique new services and resources for the community they serve. Two articles help lead the way:

Should Public Libraries be Welcoming Homes for Ingenuity?    by Phil Shapiro    Think of: creativity, playfulness, ingenuity… at the public library.  A positive and inspirational article that focuses on answering his question: what is the connection between ingenuity and public libraries?  This article also references the following article by Helene Blowers.
Libraries, Learning and Play   by Helene Blowers.  A slideshare presentation that helps libraries to focus on passion, play, learning as key drivers to positively affect change.

Why did I link these two articles offering a more unique way to look at libraries??  Because I read a quote by Thomas Frey of the DaVinci Institute: 7 percent of the recently jobless will attempt to start their own businesses.” If libraries expand their focus to include creativity, passion, play and learning as key elements of programing and services, then they will be in an even better position to help inspire and influence the future success of the new business models explained below.

Fourteen Future Trends for Business in 2009 and Beyond by Thomas Frey

In the article Mr. Frey outlines significant business trends for the future. I’ll focus on two of them that could place the public library as a key success factor for these new endeavors.

Empire of One” – a one-person businesses with far reaching influence. Technology is driving a trend of placing unprecedented power and capability into the hands of the individual. One person starts a unique business. This business is web based for marketing and sales, foreign based for production or technical or design input and the business owner may not actually even touch the product for shipping to the customer.

 “Business colonies”  – a project-based business model where talent swarms and forms around specific projects. Educated and successful individuals will come together to create an informal organization focused on the creation and delivery of unique products or services. After the project is completed, the individuals disband and then regroup in new configurations based on new business opportunities and new customer needs.

 Mr. Frey has also written a series of articles that eloquently describe new business models and capabilities for the library of the future. New customer needs, new behaviors, new technology and ever greater demands on individuals and society will create the opportunity for libraries to reshape their vision, their physical presence and their services. Focused informational needs and the search for quality experiences can be the key missions of public libraries going forward. Please take a look at these thought provoking ideas and begin the internal and external discussions about how these ideas could be implemented in your library.

The Library of the Future Series: Part 2 – The Search Command Center by Thomas Frey

In spite of current funding challenges and rising demands for service – those libraries that strive to be innovative and adaptive today, will flourish when we move to better economic times.  

What will you do today to help make your library “great”?

A Tale of Two Cities and Libraries: Philly vs. Nashville

December 17, 2008

A tough economy means tough times  =  library funding cuts……blah, blah, blah.

But wait….. there’s much more to the story.

Philadelphia, PA

I was reading about the Philadelphia public libraries and the closing of 11 branches due to budget problems. The story and related posts from SLJ are here:

Philadelphia Mayor Closing 11 of 54 Branches 11/06/2008
In Philadelphia, Mayor Faces Criticism Over Library Closings 12/02/2008
Philadelphia Closing 11 Branches 12/15/2008   Also includes Philly, San Diego, NY, Phoenix budget info.
New Twist: Philadelphia Branches Slated for Closing Are De Facto School Libraries 12/16/2008

It seemed to be the all too typical hard luck story thread about “tough times means tough choices”. Whenever I hear those words related to schools or municipalities….I know the next phrase involves library budget cuts. But then, the Philly story morphs into the fact that in many cases the Philly Schools also have inadequate or no school library in place in the school buildings also due to long term funding cuts and competing budget needs.

OK….long term school libraries defunded and forced into extinction. Now neighborhood public libraries are planned to close due to budget cuts…again defunding leads to library extinction. Obviously the Philadelphia school and public officials believe that libraries are of minimal importance. By the way – the Philadelphia schools have a dismal performance and achievement record.

The Philadelphia Inquirer 12/14/08 editorial:  Alternatives to closings  this article raises two important points:

  1. “Philadelphia has a 45-percent school dropout rate and a poverty rate of 25 percent and rising, the highest of any large U.S. city.”
  2. “The Free Library can be an essential tool in reversing these demographic trends, through after-school programs, job-search assistance, resume workshops, literacy-training classes, and free Internet access. The Free Library offers Philadelphians both a ladder to opportunity and a supporting hand as they climb it.”

My normal reaction would be: poor misguided officials are limiting access and opportunity for students and the community. Clearly this is a case of government gone bad.

But then…… at the same time, in the same troubled economy, comes a different response.

Nashville, TN

Nashville Mayor Proposes Public Library Run School Libraries 11/21/2008

Back in November at the beginning of the current economic meltdown, Nashville mayor Karl Dean faced with budget pressures and the same failing school  performance and achievement issues, “has requested the school libraries be consolidated under the Nashville Public Library(NPL)—an apparent first-ever move in which a major city’s school libraries would be run by a public library, offering potential synergies but also posing significant implementation challenges.”  With the following key issues:

  • Consolidation would start with high school libraries
  • Procurement savings seen
  • Challenges regarding organization, technology
  • Schools board chair expresses concern
  • “To me, this decision is common sense,” Dean wrote. “A consolidated library system will immediately increase and improve the resources available to our students, and allow them to move seamlessly between their school and community libraries.

    LJ Talks to Donna Nicely, Nashville Public Library Director 12/16/2008

    Donna Nicely, NPL Director in the above article said some extremely important things:

    “I felt great enthusiasm from the school staff, as well as my own staff, for making these libraries so strong, of making them visible and important and a beacon…there was real excitement about that idea. I believe we can get that done.

    I don’t know… there are enormous issues, but they are things we need to bring to table, take a good look, and see how we might work through them……. The mayor is concerned about the school system, and the school system is under state aegis; it’s not achieving the standards it needs.

    I think we’re getting ready to embark on a very exciting idea. …. Let’s do something together where we know we can make a real impact and then go from there.

    We’re considered a very strong agency in the city. He’s a real library person. I’m always open to new ideas. 

    We’ve just finished a strategic conversation with our own users. We asked: ‘In the next five to ten years, what should we be doing, and what should we be doing if resources are reduced?’ In that study, people over and over again said, ‘We’re concerned about our teens, what they’re doing after school, and we wished you worked more with the schools.’ Well, when this came along, I thought [that] there seems to be real potential for strengthening that.”

    So how is that two major cities can see libraries sooooo differently?

    In Philly, the libraries both school and public, are seen by the public officials as a less than vital service. Libraries are just another line item available to wring out some cost savings. In Nashville, the public library is seen as “a very strong agency”. In addition, it is clear that library director Donna Nicely has a wonderful, positive, open minded attitude. Her ” let’s explore the possibilities, so together we can do something great” approach to this challenging environment is refreshing.

    I truly believe that the economic challenges faced nationally and locally will require new, bold, different library solutions. Libraries can be the community resource that offers a welcoming environment, free resources, internet access, consumer information, and technology support. Libraries also offer the community and neighborhood “connections” that support job seekers, our students,  families and seniors. 

    I also believe libraries will choose to go down one of two paths:

    1. listen, change, adapt, serve, make new community connections and aggresively reach out. In the end they will be a better and stronger library. One that has improved their community stature and relevance.
    2. Or…….cower, hoard, bunker down, shrink and look inward. This path leads to library extinction.

    My choice – let’s be courageous, get creative, be aggressive……think greatness!

    Library: patrons or customers? … I like – Members

    November 6, 2008


    Not: patrons….. Not: customers……. Members. 

    The credit for this idea belongs to Joan Frye Williams: http://www.jfwilliams.com/index.html 

    I attended a public library presentation recently where Joan presented a half day seminar. Joan did a wonderful job helping us to think about libraries in some new ways. She discussed a survey she did that tried to communicate how users of a public library would like to be identified. The survey winner: members.  I think that is perfect.

    The old fashioned term “patron” seems just that…old fashioned. I have always liked the term “customer”. Customer conveys a more specific “service” provider and receiver relationship. But I must say….”member” gets it even more right. Member implies “a person” who is a part of the community. The term is more friendly, more personal, more warm and more engaged. A member might be: a family member, a school member, a church member, a local community member….. or all of those. You get the picture. I especially like the idea that “member” conveys a sense of “belonging”. Isn’t that exactly what we hope happens to all those people who enter our doors, or use our services… that they feel a sense of belonging?

    The term member also conveys a sense of relationship. No longer a top down, us vs. them. A member is more of an equal, a part of the team. A member has a stake in the process and the outcome. A member has ideas, thoughts and wishes that need to be taken into consideration. A member gets to contribute.

    So I move we abolish the term “patron” and even “customer” from our language and written communication. We are all “members” of our local and even the larger…library community as a whole. Thanks Joan!

    Video – A New Librarian Assistant?

    October 9, 2008

    Did you ever wish you had a way to have your own personal video of your self answering that same question over and over and over….? You know the ones: what time do you close?, when does this book have to be back?, where is the bathroom? When you hear the “question”, just hit the play button and voila…..question answered. It’s a nice fantasy isn’t it? As you know by now….I would always expect librarians to give the best customer service possible. Our customers deserve that.

    But what if there was a way to give great service and solve that “repetitive question that needs an answer” issue. Why not let short, to the point, online videos – help solve the problem of: never enough time….and… our customers deserve good service.

    Another great video from the folks at Common Craft gave me the idea.  Web Search Strategies in Plain English. 


    Keep the video bookmarked on your computer system. Then when a young student or a new library customer asks the age old question: “How do I find some information about ….fill in the blank….. on the internet”?  You simply have them view the 2:51 minute video and they have a good start. There are lots of wonderful and informative videos just like this one available for free on the web. Check out YouTube and the TeacherTube sites for some great ideas. Also the Common Craft website has many terrific instructional videos, most aimed at teaching Web 2.0 skills.

    For those brave technology explorers, consider screencasting. Screencasting is creating short, instructional videos by capturing your computer’s on-screen movements and adding audio for explanation.  For a good rundown and some resources check out the iLibrarian link here: A Quick Guide to Screencasting for Libraries

    Using existing free web video resources or creating your own custom screencasts could be effective ways to stretch your personal time and to provide valuable 21st century information skills for your students and customers.

    I have some more video ideas on the Vodpod video display on the right and on my Great Library Resources page.

    %d bloggers like this: