A kind reader sent on an article this week about library system cuts in Illinois. Things are, indeed, tough all over, but some people claim they could be tougher, and we should be grateful for only a minimal amount of toughness. Here’s a bit of the article:
"In a conference call this morning initiated by the Illinois State Library (ISL) with the nine multi-type regional Library Systems, we were notified that Library Systems will be receiving a 16% reduction in funding through the Area & Per Capita grant…. [The] Director of the Illinois State Library pointed out that while these reductions in the grant program will be difficult for all, we owe a debt of gratitude to Secretary White for blunting the effect of the cuts. It could have been so much worse. The budget line item for the three per capita grant programs was specifically targeted for about a 47% cut in the budget passed by the Illinois General Assembly."
The kind reader had this say: "In the past few months, I’ve read a hundred messages like this one…. Basically it’s saying … you cut off my right hand and my left leg, but I’ll keep my chin up and continue marching … and BTW, I’m really grateful that you didn’t cut both my legs off…. When will library directors and associations begin responding with specifics about what people will lose in the face of dramatic cuts?"
That is indeed a good question, and I certainly don’t have an answer, though I suspect that answer is "never." It seems clear what librarians will be suffering here. According to the report, they’re cutting raises, travel, public relations, and supplies, as well as considering increasing fees for professional development (as it cuts raises and travel funding. Nice!).
Public relations we could all do without, but the rest of it seems important, especially the raises and supplies. I’ll be honest; I like money. Moneyincentivizes me in a way that staff parties and free brownies don’t. I also like supplies, and don’t want to get into the exploited situation of those public school teachers who are supposedly bright enough to teach our children, but not bright enough to avoid jobs where you’re expected to buy supplies for yourself and all the little kiddies. I’m a gal who likes a post-it, and by God I refuse to buy my own.
When we talk about cuts, though, how will library users suffer? Because unless library users suffer and speak out about it, nothing’s going to change. Does anyone think after making such drastic cuts and seeing no one complain loudly that politicians are going to reinstate the money in good times? Fat chance. If I was a politician and cut library budgets so drastically, and the only response was from librarians thanking me for not cutting them more, that’d be the end of library funding. Librarians think libraries are the end-all, be-all of existence. Politicians have a thousand other special interests paying them money to think about their interest and not the public good.
"Hmm I could vote to raise library funding and get nothing for it but the gratitude of some simpering librarians, or I could take money from the the [insert special interest] lobby and vote for something they care about. This is a tough one. Public good or corruption? I am an Illinois politician, after all. The public good is always my main concern. But there’s that house I’ve been wanting…." You get the idea.
It’s clear nobody cares what the librarians say. Just look at how everybody ignores the resolutions of the ALA Council. It’s not like libraries have ever been hotbeds of graft and perks and corporate jets and free meetings in the Bahamas. Libraries are always poor. Instead of cutting back on staff needs that are already cut to the bone, libraries should start cutting services and hours, and make it very clear to patrons why this is being done. That’s the part often left out.
"Oh, we have to cut Sunday hours. We’re so sorry. We hope you don’t mind. Please love us. Pleeease!" Forget that stuff. How about: "We have to cut Sunday hours, and evening hours, and we’re no longer buying any videos or CDs. If this upsets you as much as it upsets us, then you should write this politician: [name, address, phone, email, IM, GIS coordinates follow]."
The problem is, librarians are too nice, and they’re too dedicated to public service. They’d rather limp along struggling to serve clueless patrons than just stop and say, "sorry, we can’t do that anymore, and it’s this group’s fault so go take it up with them."
But no, it’s easier just to stick it to the librarians. They don’t have anybody representing their interests to state assemblies or the federal government. There’s no American Librarian Association to defend their interest, which are considerably closer to the public interest than most of what’s lobbied for. So librarians can limp along, helping who they can, being punched in the stomach, saying, "please, sir, may I have another?" Welcome to the Old Normal.
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