A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Maintaining Library Services During Hard Economic Times

by on December 16, 2014

This past summer we were in the midst of the how-are-we-going-to-fund our library discussion. It’s an age-old library question: how do we maintain our services, or (dare I suggest) how can we increase our services with a flat or reduced budget? The fear was real: do we reduce services at (or close) a branch or do we make drastic cuts at the main location? Fortunately, status quo won out as the fear was unfounded; there were no cuts to the library budget…at least for this year.

The discussion, for me, was proof that library funding is more political than I ever imagined. A mayoral task force, countless staff meetings, and three public forums highlighted that there were no easy solutions. In the end, I imagine the decisions are the same for any library: it’s either people or materials. Either way you look at it, the patron loses. While it’s easy to suggest that slashing the materials budget or getting rid of highly-paid librarians will solve the problem, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of their symbiotic relationship. If there aren’t enough people, services and processing suffers. If there aren’t materials, the public has nothing to read and the staff has nothing to do; as we all know, overstaffing is incredibly upsetting to taxpayers.

I have also never been too close to the political realities of library funding. Elected officials campaigned on revitalizing our neighborhoods. Home owners were livid at the thought of a library closing (or reducing hours) in their neighborhood. But, while the cries of, “How can the library do this?” rang loud, it was countered by voices asking, “What would you have us do?” Fiscal responsibility is tossed around everywhere these days. I’m all for it. We have a responsibility to be careful and deliberate with taxpayer monies.

The most telling comments were to fire “overpaid” master-level librarians. Why this bothered me was not because I’m one of these master librarians, but rather, what does the public gain by not having trained, educated, and professional staff to serve the information needs of the community? The library community and constituents suffer. We all want the library to succeed. This makes me wonder how we failed to communicate what we do and why we do it. We try to be responsive but we are either hindered by funds, personnel, or technology.

I suppose when this rolls around next year (oh, this year’s discussion didn’t solve any long-term funding issues) that I will try to keep smiling and remember that at least the library community wants three locations, even if we can’t agree on how to sustain them.

Cover Photo CreditSan José Library

Tags: , , , ,