The tone among some librarians these days seems to be “all or nothing.” Even in states with terrible budget deficits and high unemployment, librarians think that they alone should be spared from cuts.
I’ve been reading about and hearing from librarians all over the country bemoaning their fate or, much more aggressively, protesting budget cuts. We’ve been in a recession for the past two years, and the only people who aren’t suffering are investment bankers and unionized public sector workers, both of whom are shielded from the worst.
Many people out in the world have lost their jobs or had their pay or hours reduced. They’ve had no raises. They’ve had their homes foreclosed upon. And yet there are librarians (and public school teachers as well) who act as if what they do is so sacred that it cannot possibly be cut.
At ALA, I had a somewhat tense conversation with a librarian from one of the states in huge financial trouble who was complaining about state funding being cut by some large percentage. Part of my duties as an alert spectator of all things library is keeping up with state budgets, and I knew for a fact this state is in terrible financial straits.
So I asked about that. What did she think should be cut? Nothing, and certainly not libraries.
Her solution was to raise taxes on “the wealthy.” I hate to be the bringer of bad news – no, sorry, that actually doesn’t bother me at all – but “the wealthy” have paid all the taxes they’re going to pay. Increased taxes don’t hit “the wealthy,” they hit the middle and lower middle classes.
Increased taxes supposedly on “the wealthy” often backfire. Years ago there was an increased “luxury tax” on yachts. What happened? “The wealthy” bought fewer yachts, which put the working class yacht manufacturers out of work. “The wealthy” know how to protect their money from taxes; that’s how they stay wealthy.
In the handful of states with the worst budget situations especially, there aren’t any more taxes to wring out of people. We don’t live in some totalitarian communist state that can put up walls to prevent interstate travel. If taxes get exorbitantly higher than those of surrounding states, everyone who can move moves, and it makes the situation even worse.
I would expect librarians, who are supposedly capable of critical thought and evaluating information, to understand all this.
When librarians talk about the true value of libraries to people, it’s all to the good. When librarians make up crazy stuff about dark ages to scare the public, they just look silly.
But when they imply that it’s better to raise more taxes than to take any cuts to libraries, when everyone else is suffering from recession already, they just look insane.
That’s exactly the sort of response that makes public employees look so bad to everyone else. It’s not that public employees are all incompetent or wasteful, as the charge sometimes is. It’s that too many public employees think public agencies exist to give them gainful employment. They’re not welfare agencies for bookworms, but public agencies that can be cut in hard times.
It’s the impetus behind every claim that “people use libraries more during a recession.” Yes, they do, because they have less money. And because they have less money, they have less to pay in taxes. And because of that, there must be either cuts in public services or increased taxes on those less able to pay.
That’s the reverse conundrum to libraries being busier in a recession. People also have less money to spend on funding them.
It’s hard, I know. But taking the hard line and claiming that libraries shouldn’t be cut at all during a recession is something only a librarian could believe. At some point all or nothing could leave libraries with nothing