When President Bush left, I predicted that some librarians (at least as librarians) would regret it. President Bush himself was of little importance, but his librarian wife was a strong advocate of libraries, and that many librarians were unwilling to overlook their personal politics and cultivate Laura Bush more was unfortunate.
This opinion article in the School Library Journal complaining about President Obama’s proposed cuts to federal library spending doesn’t quite fulfill my prediction, but it comes close.
President Obama proposes cutting funding for the Library Services and Technology Act by $20 million and eliminating the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries program. The author is incensed that any part of the federal budget should be reduced by cutting library spending, with the implication that all federal library spending is worthwhile.
Someone from the ALA chimes in as well. “We’re disappointed because what should be a close kinship with libraries doesn’t seem to be playing out…. We have to figure out now how to help his administration appreciate what libraries are doing, because we don’t see a pattern of support.”
Does anyone really think that President Obama doesn’t appreciate what libraries are doing? The budget shows a huge amount of support for libraries. It just doesn’t consider libraries to be sacred. Neither should we.
Has no one noticed that the federal deficit is on the road to disaster, and that unless Americans start making sacrifices the future will be far bleaker than otherwise? Do we want a bankrupt America where the federal government cuts spending entirely except for the bare necessities?
That’s a possibility if the next two decades go like the past two. And unfortunately, libraries are bare necessities only to librarians. If it’s a choice between having a military to defend the country and having library funding, no one except librarians would hesitate about the choice.
The same is true for library-loving liberals. Social Security or library funding? Medicare or library funding? Sorry, librarians, it’s a no brainer.
Librarians are acting like typical, selfish, nonthinking Americans here. Typical Americans want to cut government spending, only not on programs that benefit them. Cut pork barrel spending, but not on the pork in their particular barrel. Cut Social Security, say the young. Cut school funding, say the old.
Librarians should be above that. We should be able to see reality and recognize that a sane fiscal policy would cut a bit from everything, including libraries. This reaction exhibits the same mentality I wrote about last year, when I suggested that all or nothing could leave nothing. It’s not only foolish, it could be dangerous.
It’s also the exact same desire to ignore the facts and avoid compromises that characterizes so many politicians and political types these days. Extend unemployment benefits and tax cuts on the wealthy in the face of a huge budget deficit? Good thinking!
It might be better for libraries if we proposed better cuts instead of just whining. For example, the article mentions a cut related to Laura Bush.
“Another victim of Obama’s budget? The Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, created in 2003 by the former First Lady to help recruit and educate ‘the next generation of librarians.’ Obama requested to reduce funding for that program to $15.6 million in 2012 from $24.5 million in FY 2010.”
I have a better idea. Cut the “21st Century Librarian Program” entirely, because it was a bait-and-switch to begin with. It’s not about recruiting and educating the next generation of librarians. It’s about recruiting and educating the next generation of LIS PhD students, who will then go on to teach other LIS PhD students whenever they can get someone else to teach the MLS classes.
The argument goes that more LIS professors are needed to teach the new generation of librarians. Given the stagnant job market, the nonexistent librarian shortage, the budgets cuts libraries will likely be facing for a generation, there’s not a need to produce librarians at a greater rate. Thus, there’s not a need for more library school professors, even if they were teaching MLS students.
So cut that money and use it to pay down the deficit, or give it to people actually studying to become librarians, or give it to libraries to help support the current generation of librarians.
The literacy program President Obama proposes to eliminate is “a decade-old federal program designed to boost academic achievement by providing students with access to up-to-date school library materials.” That sounds well and good, but after a decade, do we have any evidence that it actually boosts literacy?
How up-to-date do library materials really need to be to improve student literacy? Can students learn to read only by reading the latest books? Seems unlikely. I learned with nothing but a McGuffey Reader and an old copy of Time Magazine.
That’s $19 million a year that could go to paying down the deficit. Or to feed the poor and infirm and assure they have medical care. What’s more important, feeding the poor and aiding the sick, or buying up-to-date library materials that aren’t really necessary for literacy?
Those are the sorts of choices that politicians have to make, but don’t seem to have the will to. Our best chance of having any federal library funding in the long run is to make sure the federal government has money in the long run, and believing every program is sacred isn’t the way to do that.
By all means lobby for fair funding and show the importance of libraries, especially at the state and local level, but acting like library funding should never be cut regardless of the budget situation, or that cutting library funding in the face of a budget crisis is some sort of betrayal, is misguided at best. Librarians should be more critical and intelligent than that, and quit pretending that what’s best for libraries is always best for the country.