The 11-branch Douglas County Library System (DCLS), OR, is facing closure later this spring after a ballot measure to create an independent tax district was defeated in the November 2016 election. Money provided by the tax district would have generated about $4 million a year; enough to meet the library’s funding needs. Since its rejection, DCLS is actively searching for alternatives to closure.
If there’s anything the 2016 presidential election cycle taught us, it’s be prepared. We can never underestimate the groundswell of support for an issue, institution, or person who may not support what a library provides to its community; the reliance on fake news rather than on facts (and how easy it is to have it go viral); or the power of emotion over reason.
On April 1, the people of Oregon’s Douglas County will see ten of their 11 libraries close. The last, the main, will soon follow. This decision by the county Board of Commissioners, announced January 9, is a sad outcome to a long battle to keep the system open. For those who live there, it will mean a devastating loss of a key cultural hub along with the access to information, expertise, technology, stories, voices from around the world, a book-rich environment, and all the skill development, inspiration, and aspiration these resources offer. It’s a loss the community at large should not take lightly.
The financial news for libraries in 2016 was for the most part positive—overall, budgets are up modestly—but many, still rebounding from the recession and working to keep pace with needed capital improvements and technology requirements, still feel that they’re just getting by. Libraries, particularly smaller systems, continue to meet the challenge of working with what funds are available. But unexpected or one-time expenses for a library of any size can still result in tightened purse strings. Also, the rising costs of benefits for employees, as well as the uncertainties of the health-care marketplace, are an increasingly common concern.
Faculty and students returning to the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Boston campus for the Spring 2017 semester will encounter a library with resources noticeably reduced thanks to dramatic budget cuts. On November 10, 2016, an email notified the UMass Boston community of budget cuts for Fiscal Year 2017, including roughly 20 percent of the Healey Library’s general operating fund, amounting to approximately $700,000.
On a long Election Night filled with tension and political upset, 79 libraries across the country had referenda on the ballot. The news for libraries was more good than bad. At press time, 54 had recorded wins and 12 losses, with the remainder either not applicable—representing votes to leave a district, for instance—or still too close to call.
In this day and age, with libraries forced to defend their funding either to the voters every election cycle or local municipal leaders every budget season, it is essential for Friends groups to climb the ladder of library advocacy and see themselves as citizens who stand up for their libraries. For some, this will be a natural transition; for others, it is a total redefinition of what it means to be a Friend.