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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Saving Our Libraries

Dealing with the dominoes effect in the current economic climate is very had to do, yet it is something that all libraries are dealing with in form or another. Either it’s facing budgets that target staffing, hours of operation , collection development, or all of the above. These times are nothing short of stressful, but it does not have to be bleak. There is nothing like a crisis that points out the obvious problems, which forces the hand to finally deal with it in a positive way. Recently on Twitter I read a post by an irritated library advocate that in Chicago the Fox Affiliate questioned the use of tax dollars to support libraries. Before we go knocking Fox News for presenting this lame piece of journalism for viewers consumption, why not admit that they are actually voicing an opinion that is becoming common among city board members? Is it not possible that taxpayers, who are voting down mileages are thinking the same way? The question remains what can librarians do to save libraries? Plenty, but first it is time to stop the exaggerated reports of our demise.

We are all fortunate to live in an age where communication is quick and hopefully to the point. Social media has opened up an entire new world of reaching out to new and old friends. This can be a good thing or in some cases bad in any case no one can deny that it is a new tool that should be used, and used often. Who can tell the stories of libraries better than librarians? Don't get me wrong, it would be silly not to use patrons support. Having said that, try an experiment in your library, or even with your own family ask them what is the purpose of the library? Don't be surprised if the answers are all the same: lend out books. This is where librarians need to begin educating society. Libraries are not just about books, they are about people.

Libraries hold more than just stories stored in books or in electronic forms, but the stories come from patrons who walk through the doors of the library on a daily basis. Some looking for work, some looking for story hours, and some still look for the poor man's university as Lincoln did in his day. Yes, libraries are timeless. So why the move to close them? One of the disadvantage to living in a capitalist based society is that the bottom line where it concerns dollars and cents are always important. Don't misunderstand, there is much good that comes from capitalism, such as entrepreneurship, (and libraries play a huge role there too) but when budgets are tight something has to be cut. Libraries must find a way to keep the ax from falling on their resources, or find their independence from government budgets to avoid the ax all together. Both routes require lots of work, yet working the two ideas together may be what saves libraries in the end.

The fist step is always hardest to take. As a community of professional leaders in libraries, it is important to recognize the first step and take it together. For those who are willing to be the advocate that libraries desperately need, it is important to work together to formulate our visions and ideas for libraries. It is a shame when others who have no idea of the value of a library define our profession and libraries for us. If this trend continues, surely libraries will fade away. For far too long, the bookstores have been redesigning themselves to be the libraries that everyone loved. In addition, there are multitudes of vendors who will sell the latest customer self-serve gadgets to libraries with the sales pitch that this is what library patrons want. The idea is out there that libraries our obsolete. It is up to us to prove that idea false and be the master of our own destiny. Perhaps it's time to form a non-profit group that does just that.
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