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The Haves and The Have-Nots

by on July 15, 2016

With budget cuts plaguing my state, discussions have arisen over Interlibrary Loan, more specifically, the feasibility of delivering requested items from one location to another. The bottom line: This service is expensive. It is no surprise the discussion got heated and started to reflect the sometimes petty biases and politics of large groups. The conversation also reflects a fundamental divide that occurs across many competitive organizations: the divide between the haves and the have-nots.

It is an economic truth that some have more than others. Some communities are wealthier, some have different core values, some have different economic structures, and all of these factors affect the local library. In practical terms, this means that some libraries are well funded, and others are not; some libraries have longer open hours, larger staff, more materials, better technology, while other libraries exist with volunteers, limited access, and few resources.

Often, these qualities of the library are a direct reflection of the community they serve. This is unfortunate as the effect becomes that those communities with the most need, the have-nots, end up with the least, because, they have not! What concerns me most, however, is how quickly many of the more fortunate seem to forget the complications and financial limitations of the less fortunate.

I realize this phenomenon is nothing new, as evidenced by the infamous call to “let them eat cake!” Still, I am dismayed to see this common lapse of understanding occur in libraries. Libraries at core are institutions designed to help and serve people—all people: however, I have frequently witnessed well-funded, well-staffed libraries with strong collections scoff at their poorer sisters. “Just purchase this or that…” seems to be a go-to position for financially comfortable librarians.

I understand this reaction. I have been fortunate at times to enjoy the financial security to operate this way. I have also had the misfortune to not have this ability and appreciate that financial security is a luxury, not a given.

I am a strong believer in being thankful for what one has, and I have muddled through many an event that reminded me of how things could be worse. While some have called this “could be worse” approach negative, this practice has given me great empathy and great respect for others. Thankfully, I have never experienced a devastating fire or flood. I have never lived in a war zone. I have never lacked for necessities. But I can appreciate the trauma of these events precisely because I can appreciate what I have and not take it for granted.

I have known many librarians, often in small rural libraries and destitute urban libraries, that work in tragic situations akin to states of emergency. They tirelessly seek creative solutions and focus on the needs of the “have-not” population they serve.

It is easy to become complacent. It is easy to forget that our circumstances are not the same. When you have, it is easy to forget what it is like to have not. I hope that we, particularly as librarians, remember our mission to serve and let that be a strong guiding force, regardless of our individual situations.

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