November 21, 2017

Feedback: Letters to LJ, January 2016 Issue

“There is a great need in the ‘twenty-teens’ for communities across the globe to develop and enhance the ideas of sustainability”

Libraries & sustainability

It was refreshing to read Rebecca T. Miller’s Our Triple Bottom Line. It was a cogent reminder that there is a great need in the “twenty-teens” for communities across the globe to develop and enhance the ideas of sustainability. It was refreshing and exciting to read about the New York Library Association’s efforts to bring the concepts of sustainability to the forefront of its agenda. It is hard to believe that nearly two decades ago librarians were introduced to the concepts of sustainability.

Through the presidencies of Barbara Ford (1997–98) and Sarah Long (1999–2000), the American Library Association (ALA) entered uncharted territories with its 1999–2001 Libraries Build Sustainable Communities (LBSC) program, a USAID-funded project undertaken with Global Learning, Inc. Through LBSC nearly 2,000 librarians in the United States and Canada were trained in bringing the messages of LBSC to their libraries and the communities they serve. Through the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE), recommendations of this program were delivered at the 2002 UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, along with a recommendation to the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) to consider the LBSC program as a global model.

Miller closes her editorial with what should become the rallying call of all libraries and librarians about sustainability: “It’s our only choice, and the time is here to galvanize our best thinking toward helping our libraries and our communities get there.” The recent UN negotiation meetings in Paris provide ample evidence that, on this issue alone, the importance of sustainable communities is critical, and we do not have time to take a “wait-and-see” approach about acting.

—Frederick W. Stoss, Assoc. Libn. for Biological Sciences, Ecology, Geology, & Mathematics, Science & Engineering Info Ctr., Lockwood Memorial Lib.,State Univ. of New York at Buffalo

Editor’s Note: The Paris climate change deal was approved on December 12.

Efficient Texas PLs

I might be a little biased, but I feel a need to address an oversight I’ve noticed. As I read professional literature it appears there is very little innovation and great work done by and in public libraries of Texas. When one is listening to the library echo chamber there is an awful lot of silence on the Texas public library front. As an example, only two percent of LJ’s Movers & Shakers are employees in Texas public libraries and that’s only three times the number of public library employees from Washington, DC, which has about two percent of the population of Texas.

As of the end of 2014, there were 568 library systems in Texas, with many more locations when you factor in branches, to serve the nearly 27 million residents with a total operating expense of approximately $478 million (an average of under $18 per capita) across nearly 270,000 square miles. These libraries own over 49.7 million items and 4.5 million downloadable items and saw approximately 113.6 million circulations in 2014, or about 4.2 circulations per capita statewide.

The public libraries across the state employed 1,676.75 FTE MLS librarians in 2014 and 6,788 total FTE employees. These staff members answered 14.8 million questions from the public during that same year. That averages more than one question answered every hour each employee worked. Staff planned and implemented 254,000 programs attended by 6.1 million residents. So, the average day in 2014 saw 696 programs going on in public libraries in Texas, with an equivalent of 22.5 percent of the state attending. While it is true that only 49 percent of the state’s population are registered library cardholders, those cardholders visited Texas public libraries over 73 million times, or approximately an average of 5.5 times a year, and used the public library computers 16.6 million times. Oh, yeah, the state’s public libraries were also net lenders of inter­library loans, sending out 689,000 ILLs in 2014 and receiving 656,700.

So, if we only judge success by circulation, the public libraries of Texas collectively cost only $4.20 per circulation in 2014. That’s a price that is pretty hard to beat, especially once you begin to add in the programs and computer use that keep the libraries buzzing daily. This doesn’t even begin to count the great and innovative programs that are coming out of Texas public libraries. Including Dallas Public’s Streetview podcast on homelessness, produced by the homeless themselves; Austin’s Connected Youth Centers; San Antonio’s digital-only BiblioTech; and Houston Public’s Toyota Family Learning Program, innovations abound in Texas public libraries. The difference is Texas libraries are doing it for less, with less.

I am not claiming Texas libraries are superior to others, or are the most innovative either. I do believe that there is a lot other libraries can learn from how we Texans go about our work. I am claiming that we do a lot of great and interesting things here, and our regular mode of operation is one that should be looked at for efficiency and how to get things done.

—Spencer Smith, Dir. of Libs., City of McKinney, TX

This article was published in Library Journal's January 1, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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