Friday, February 25, 2011

Building Grassroots Support for Libraries.

Another library will be closing their doors in Southeast Michigan. This is cutting to close to home. Way to close. To top it all off, Governor Snyder's recent release of budget cuts will basically leave more libraries hanging by a thin thread for dear life. The words "unsustainable" comes to mind quite often when listening to the litany of cuts aimed at libraries. While understanding that our country is experiencing economic turmoil and sacrifices must be made, it seems that all too often the library is the one who bleeds the most in local, state and national cuts. Before it is too late, and another library is lost. Leaders from every type of library across the United States, should stand firm against the cuts and fight like mad to save libraries. In this economic environment, no library is safe. Not even yours.

Fellow colleagues have commented to me that they believe that this is the end of librarianship. The future for libraries is dark at the moment, granted, however, it is not the end. It's merely a new chapter. While this "chapter" in the history of libraries will not be a very happy one, there is an opportunity for some positive outcomes that librarians can learn from in the years ahead. Pardon me if I sound as if I'm repeating myself from my earlier blogs, but I believe some things must be repeated and repeated often.

As a profession, I think now is the time to start singing our praises about libraries in general to the public we serve. More often than not, librarians will talk among themselves about how horrible it is to see libraries close or cut hours. Attending conferences that teach librarians on how to be advocates is a wonderful place to start, but let's face it those who attend the advocacy conferences are preaching to their kin. We'll consider that a practice session. It's time to go out into the world and do the "hard" sell.

Recently a patron boldly asked me why should libraries be paid for by tax dollars? The library services are not as important as the fire or police departments. Before going into the spiel of everything the library had to offer, I tried an easier approach. We can agree that every community needs a police department to protect them from crimes. We can also agree that every community needs a fire station to protect families from fires. Libraries are needed in every community to protect access to information. When put into that context most patrons will be satisfied with that response. If the counter argument is made that the internet has replaced the library, all one needs to do is point to the statistics that demonstrate that communities are using their libraries now more than ever. It's not hype, it's fact.

Every moment that librarians are given to be in the public eye should be shrewdly taken advantage of in the way of cheap marketing. Everywhere, every minute and to every person, libraries and their benefits in society should be promoted. Talk isn't cheap when it is associated with action. Going out into the community is a huge step towards reminding people that libraries build and sustain communities. Perhaps this is a Pollyanna dream to believe that librarians could build a grassroots support for libraries within every American Community. I don't believe so. There are many librarians who are coming to realize that we can not really solely on our professional associations to protect our libraries. Librarians have got to build it themselves, one citizen at a time. What did Costner say in Field of Dreams, "If we build it, they will come." Well? It can be done. Is anyone willing to help begin the grassroots movement to save libraries? Here's hoping there are at least a few yeses. If there is not, we're doomed.
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