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Making Hard Choices During Budget Cuts

by on July 24, 2014

When I go back to my favorite restaurant growing up, I find it pales in comparison to my memory. What I’m experiencing-currently-is not what I remember. Life is about change. The library is an organic entity with a life of its own. No matter how much we cling to our memories, what we recall in our memory—the old way the library was run—is not how it is run today.

My library is in a predicament. Faced with a budget deficit, the board must decide if we are to close a branch or make enough cuts to library staff positions to keep it open. A mayoral task force was created to help solve this situation. While they regret that anyone should lose their job, they cannot accept that a branch will close, or that it should even close in order to preserve library services…all library services.

I (like most library personnel) are committed to this library as it serves the community. To suggest (as some do) that any of us want to see a library branch close is ridiculous. One could make the suggestion, however, that our mission as a library is to serve all of our community. Since we are library professionals, who better to have the best interest of the library in our hearts and minds? We see the financial constraints. We understand what the circulation statistics tells us. We know what patrons are doing inside the building. In this sense, the numbers do not lie and the decision is clear.

That being said, I am not a life-long resident of this community. I am not beholden to sentiment or nostalgia in regards to branches and neighborhoods. What I do know is that the branch may be important to a particular neighborhood (much like a park), but it is not more important than the entire library organization.

The only real solution (which library staff members have been saying for months, but was only recently mentioned by the task force) is to have a referendum. If the community wants to have 3 branches, let them help pay for it. (I will save discussion of why we employ master-level librarians for another time — we have too many, so I’m told.)

What is the most glaring omission in this discussion is the failure to grasp that the branches exist because the main library exists. They are not independent but just like any library department; they are a department of the city’s public library, much like the library is a department of the city. What will this branch become if we are told to keep it? I’m not sure. I do know it will not be what long-term citizens remember. What I tell people who I meet is would they cut off their arm to save their life? This may be exaggerated, but it is no less true. Keeping the branch open without additional funding to cover the costs will cause harm to the entire body. If libraries are truly a hub of the community (the entire community and not a few city blocks), then it is in the interests of all to keep it healthy.

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