Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

The Life of a Library in 2013

The Prediction Heard Round the World

The other day author DC McGannon shared with me a link regarding his 13 predictions for 2013. Check out number 4:

4. Libraries are going to get hit hard.
I really, really, really hope I’m wrong on this one, and I’m going to do everything possible on my part to keep it from happening. However, with the ding-a-lingy stuff going on in politics and everything that entails and affects, I see libraries suffering even more. Financial support, programs, staffing, and probably just about every area a library needs to thrive.
I’ve had several conversations with librarians who say it’s already happening.

The truth is, it has been happening for a while now. Each year libraries seem to be facing increasingly smaller budgets in a time when our patrons need us more than ever.

A Day in the Life of a Library

Here are some of the things that I will do in just ONE DAY at my library:
Help a patron put together a job resume, including finding the books with examples and helping patrons get started on computer resume templates.

Sign up somewhere around 20 patrons who are looking for or applying for jobs on our computers because they don’t have computers at home and almost all jobs now ask you to apply online.

Help students of all ages finds books for research papers and assigned reading assignments. Later, they will also get on our computers to type up their assignments.

Help parents find picture books on various topics to instill a love of reading, promote early literacy, and help them teach their children about manners, sharing, etc.

Help people learn more about medical diagnoses they just received in a 10 minute appointment at their doctor’s office, help the newly pregnant learn what to expect when they are expecting and what they may want to name their baby, and find materials for those that are grieving to help them through their loss.

I will help people discover new recipes, plan their spring garden, learn how to fix their car, and so much more.

Plus, people throughout the community will log onto our library’s website to use our information databases. They will use our community room for Scout meetings, diabetes education training, and more.  Libraries are about more than just books, we are resources.

They will watch movies they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, read books they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, and use our resources to better themselves and make positive contributions to the world we live in.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Libraries are the Beating Heart (of our communities)

The Underprivileged and the Digital Gap

So when I hear people ask if libraries still matter, I can’t help but think they haven’t stepped into a library lately. The truth is, the privileged – those with iPads and iPhones and laptops and e-readers and wifi access at home – forget that there are a huge percentage of people who still go to bed hungry at night (1 out of 5) and can’t afford those things. They can’t afford the tools they need to succeed in the world today.

The other morning while driving to work I was listening to my local NPR station (a sure sign that I am officially an adult) and they were interviewing the head of children’s programming at PBS. She made an excellent point: PBS was initially created to help bridge the education gap for all people, including preschoolers. But today, that education gap includes technology literacy, the ability to use the various technological devises that populate our world. Many preschoolers are entering public school at an incredible disadvantage because they don’t understand what the information world is and how to navigate it. They enter school at a disadvantage and it is almost impossible for them to ever catch up, especially if they don’t have access to the tech they need. However, most public libraries provide this access.

But here we are today, still hanging onto a fiscal cliff, in a post bust world, still debating whether or not we need libraries or if libraries are a waste.  Through one side of our mouth we yell, “get a job and become a contributing member of society” while out of the other side of our mouth we cut access to the very tools people need to do exactly that.  That’s what libraries are, a tool that supports democracy, that supports education, and that provides the means for people to become better -better people, better citizens, better innovators and problems solvers and thinkers and feelers.  Libraries make the world a better place by helping the people in it be better people.  So shouldn’t we demand better libraries and find a way to support them?

The Struggle of a Modern Day Library

When the economy took a nosedive in 2008, it affected everyone. It affected libraries. The library I worked at at the time went through 2 lay-offs and cut service hours. The library that I work at now cut service hours and is replacing all full-time staff with part-time staff. That’s right, I am an MLS librarian with 19 years experience and I work part-time, with no benefits. One could argue that I technically work full-time with part-time pay. But I am not alone in this.

At the same time, materials and services budgets are cut while prices go up. That means we have less money to buy new materials – new books – and they cost more. So where five years ago we could get 5 books for a hundred dollars, today we can get 3 to 4. And we have less hundreds of dollars to work with.

At the same time, new formats create new demands on already stretched budgets. I’m talking to you e-books. Now, I am not going to lie, I have an e-reader (a gift from a friend) and I really do love it. The struggle for libraries is that we have a small subset of patrons with e-readers demanding e-books, which means that we now have to buy a different version of the same popular titles out of the same size budget. This means we get less diversity in titles and more duplication of popular titles in multiple formats. And it’s not just with books, this happens when Blu Ray takes off and we now must provide DVDs and Blue Rays of various movie titles. The point is, we have a demand in increase that can’t be met on current budgets.

And then there is our very lifeblood – technology. Technology just does not sit still, and this is a huge financial burden for libraries who are often the only access point for a huge portion of its citizens. We need computers that run the latest versions of the latest software, and quickly. We often have lines for people waiting to get on our computers and sluggish computers prevent patrons from successfully completing their tasks. But as you know, updating tech is pricey.

Every year, because of declining funding, libraries are cutting staffing, cutting budgets, cutting hours.  This means that we are cutting access to the very information and resources this country’s citizens need to turn this all around. Ironic, isn’t it?

So, what can you do to support your library?

Speak out and join the advocacy project.

Be a Contributor
If you can, donate to your local library. Your first instinct is to go through your shelves and donate all your DVDs and books that you no longer need, but that isn’t always the best way to help. Often times, we get donations of books we already have, or of older titles that have very limited interest. You don’t want it any more, so it’s a safe bet that few other people do. But we can always use additional funds to provide quality collections, programming, and services.  Contact your local library to ask about making donations.

Be Involved
If you have a talent you can share in a program, contact your local library about doing a free program. Please keep in mind that your library has experience in what will and what won’t work in the community and don’t be too upset if they say your program idea isn’t right for them at the moment.  Putting together programming publicity and providing staff time can be a huge expense, and sometimes they just don’t have it to spare at the moment.  But then again, sometimes, magic can happen.  It never hurts to ask.

Be a Friend
Many libraries have a local Friends of the Library group that helps support the library – join them. Last year, my Friends group gave me a small grant to help build up my teen fiction collection. I spent the year buying newer titles that I couldn’t have afforded otherwise, and circulation increased, which means that more books are being read. I think we can all agree that more reading is good. So, join the Friends.

Be Proud and Loud
Another important thing you can do is to talk loudly and often about why you support your library. Share positive library experiences on all your social media sites. Write letters to the local paper. Write letters to your representatives at all levels. If we are silent, everyone thinks that nobody cares so therefore libraries must be irrelevant. But we know that they are not, so we must make sure that others know it too. Word of mouth is the most important type of advocacy that a library can have. You know how you love to talk about your favorite movie or tv show? Do the same for your local library, and for the cause of libraries in general.

The Final Word

Every day librarians are working to make the world a better place and to touch each individual life that walks through our door by giving them access to the tools they need to succeed. We would love your help. And DC, I really really hope you are wrong.

More Advocacy Tools:
Libraries are the Beating Heart (of our communities) An advocacy piece with great infographics to use in promoting libraries.
Are Libraries a Waste?
Advocacy 101