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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More Bad News ?

To say the economy is not doing well would be an understatement. In good times, libraries feel budget pinches and in bad times libraries feel budget punches. This time around it almost feels like a TKO, total knock out. Cities are appealing to their citizens to approve milages in order to secure funding needed to keep their libraries open. Routinely, the American Library Associition sends out bulk emails urging their members to contact their representatives in Congress and the Senate to include support to libraries in the jobs bill. The only problem with this, is that everyone else and their cousins are asking for the same thing. The Detroit Public Library recently announced that in March of 2011 they will be forced to use furlough days and layoffs in order to keep the library open. America is not the only country losing their big cities libraries. In the UK, libraries are fighting to remain open, which leads to the conclusion that this is not just a national problem but a global one. When the global economy rebounds, will libraries receive the financial support they need? My fear is that once the money is stripped from libraries, there will be no turning back. That support is gone for good. Is there still time to stop this from happening? There is no question that the tock is ticking, but yes there is hope.

The American Library Association has been on the front lines for library advocacy. As an organization, it has done it's part in keeping the membership informed of legislation, advocacy tools through various outlets such as LosingLibraries.org and ilovelibraries.org. Both sites provide useful information but there is a key component that is missing. It is preaching to the choir. Those who truly care about the plight of libraries will search out the information. Those who don't, will simply ignore the argument as they plug into the Internet for information that is repeated often, shallow in quantity of research and ease of access with a click of a button, creating the illusion of the Internet is the ends to a means in retrieving information.

Libraries are the backbone of a free society. It just may be that this is where the concept of "Do-It-Yourself" originated. Library patrons have always used the resources available to them to educate themselves on a variety of topics. Anything for classic literature, politics to home improvement is available under one roof. As a profession, librarians have taken for granted that the community knows about the library, and will use it when needed. Since the 1980's and 90's especially, the society has become more demanding in how much "time" it takes to receive service or to complete a project. Time has become a valuable commodity. Almost priceless. To survive in a fast paced world, public and private businesses give the people want they want: fast service. This it seems to me, is the library's biggest foe. Time.

The general public views libraries in nostalgic ways. A symbol of simpler times, when life seemed to go at a slower pace, neighbors knew each other and everyone felt safe. It is in essence, the view of Norman Rockwell's America. Case in point, years ago borrowing a book from the library came as second nature. In 2010, with the rise of popularity of eReaders and digital books, most patrons do not even consider the library as a place to "borrow" ebooks. In their minds, libraries have not moved with society and are from a bygone era. Why? They want information fast and convenient. Librarians need to change this view and quickly. While there are many supporters of the library, there are many more who are critical of libraries and our profession. Reaching out to the critics will be the best way to survive. Not only in this country but worldwide.

No one can deny that a culture with an educated class has a better chance to have open debate which ultimately can lead to a democracy. For this reason alone, it is worth saving libraries. Having said that, this is not enough to drive home the importance of libraries. Libraries must go to where the critics are, the coffee houses, the parks, the gym or the mall, to promote and educate what the library has to offer. It is simply not enough to go to our legislators to ask for support. It is simply not enough to ask Friends of the Library for fundraising ideas. Libraries will survive when a community rises to support them. This is bigger than a grassroots effort. This is going to heart of what the library is all about. Serving people of all ages and at every stage of life.

Finding critics of libraries is easy. Librarians find them around every corner. The real challenge, as stated before, reaching out to them. A bold attitude to invite ourselves into the most unlikely places should be used. Grab a microphone and start talking about the wonders to be found at the library. The key here is don't stop talking and don't stop moving. Light the proverbial flame in every community. No longer will our critics be able to say that librarians are quiet and mousey. Hopefully, they will have a better understanding of what librarians do and an even better appreciation for their local libraries.
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