It unfortunately is an old story that we have all heard before. Public libraries in Connecticut are faced with budget cuts. The question for them now becomes, “What do we do?” The goal is to provide the same level of service to your patrons in the community, but how do you do that without the same amount of resources? Libraries need to look at the bigger picture when this happens. The answer can’t just be, “We will lay someone off until we get more money.” It really won’t fix the situation, and may actually provide library directors with the idea that the library can survive with less staff, which may lead to eliminating the position altogether.
In general, I believe a library should always be looking for alternative solutions even when not faced with a budget cut. It may make sense to keep an ongoing file. Perhaps being a part of a consortium like WorldCat isn’t necessary when you look at the statistics and discover that it isn’t utilized enough to validate the cost of having it available. Perhaps every library in the state doesn’t need to subscribe to every newspaper/magazine/online database. Libraries should be monitoring their statistics of how often these items are being used and adjust accordingly. It may make sense to carry a subscription to a fishing magazine like Bassmaster in an area that is around a body of water, but it may not be necessary in a more urban area. It may make sense to provide Hi-Fructose in an area with a large college population and a thriving art community, but it may not make sense to also carry it in a smaller rural community with no art galleries.
A library I used to work at faced job cuts and we had to restructure our work after two positions were eliminated. Ultimately we decided to look at the statistics of when we were the busiest, and adjust the hours of operation accordingly. We found that hardly anyone was using the facility on Sundays or after 8 on Monday through Thursdays, so we closed Sundays and closed at 8 during the week. This allowed us not to more easily cover the shifts with our reduced staff.
In Connecticut, they are being presented with a possible $3.5 million cut to the State Library System. The time is now for Connecticut libraries to get creative about their cost savings. It has been suggested that they may need to look into depending more and more on foundation support to cover what local and state money may no longer be able to provide.
It’s an unfortunate situation, but one that can be improved with a little thought, examination, and ingenuity. Often once a community realizes just what has been lost they will rally with the next election to support their local libraries and all of the many, many, many services that we provide.