Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Librarians Getting the Shaft, as Usual

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.


Contact the AL:



  1. Dances With Books says:

    I could not have said it better:

    :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].”

    This is exactly what we should be doing and the way we should be doing it. No wimpy nonsense of apologizing for what we do (which is very much a public good), but get the people riled up. Oh, you want more books? Well guess what, take it with your local legislator who just voted to cut our funding? More computers? Ain’t happening, unless you tell your legislator you actually need that computer to find a job or type a resume so you can try and get a job in this economy.

    It is either that, or we may have to join the corruption and graft wagon.

  2. While I agree in principle, the fact of the matter is most patrons don’t stick around to hear why we’ve cut hours, purchases, etc. All they know is the library sucks, so they blame the librarians.

  3. “Public good or corruption? I am an Illinois politician, after all.”

    As an Illinois Librarian, I thank you for that.

  4. Bibliothecaire Extraordinaire says:

    AL, you are right. Librarians, on the whole, tend to be a really passive bunch. Good intentioned, yes.

    Librarianship is arguably one of the best-intentioned professions out there. But (generally speaking) librarians are not assertive, much less, aggressive enough. I see that DAILY where I work: we are given orders to grovel to the public, to beg for forgiveness if we are on the phone and a patron shows up in person. Customer service is one thing.

    Working in an environment where one is hammered down constantly by administration and encouraged to work in fear of public uproar is another thing.

    At my library, we are told be to roving constantly. “Always look busy, because there are tough times and we don’t want to the public to think that we are lazy public servants.” WHICH WE ARE NOT!!!!

    Even though most of the patrons here are just here to wash themselves in the bathroom sinks or doze off at the desks on in the abandoned 860’s section, they want us to rove. It might be different in other libraries, but I know that here, roving would be useless, no matter how much of it is done.

    The point is, we are getting cut all across the board. And yes, the mentality really does seem to be “well, we are lucky that at least it’s just (blank) and not (blank).” Once all these cuts take place wherever and however they are set to take place, there is no way that politicos will ever channel more money back into the libraries, even if the economy ever gets better.
    It’s pretty depressing, the state of public library funding these days.

    Thanks for your post, AL.

  5. Having watched first hand, librarians lobby for funding and recognition at the state legislative level, it is amazing that they get any money at all.

    It is not that librarians aren’t in the graft line, there are many well intentioned groups — from nurses, social advocates, educators, etc, — that know how to play the game and get funding.

    Librarians come in with a superior attitude that EVERYONE should know how wonderful libraries are and they should get piles of money. They have nothing else to sell the legislators: no fresh faced tot whose life was saved by a DDR event at the local library, no homeless person who turned their life around by reading a newspaper on the table they were sleeping at, the registered sex offender who found the unfettered access to the Internets.

    They just come, say give us money ’cause we are great and then leave.

    They deserve every dime they are not getting by their inaction.

  6. ChickenLittle says:

    I am in the public library sector and yes I have great sympathy for any cuts to it. However, the harsh realities are that city and county administrators across the US are now looking at “usage” statistics rather than circulation. They want to know directly how many taxpayers are using this service, not how many books are being borrowed. Over the past 10 years our usage has had a steady decline in numbers as the boomers are getting older and fewer younger people are gracing our doors. Our circulation has remained steady, but who cares if fewer users are borrowing more books? As a result, the city is consistently cutting our budgets accordingly and re-directing funds to services that ARE being used, pools, gyms, senior centers, etc. While this doesn’t seem fair….is the city not correct for doing this?

  7. ChickenLittle: I’m sure you’d agree it’s exactly that kind of short sightedness that leads to eventual closing. Library usage is dropping so they cut their budget. The library then can’t afford to do as much (have new books, children’s programming, etc.) so people use the library even less. The death spiral has then set in.

  8. People and organizations get shafted if they let themselves get shafted.

    Maybe the ALA can set up a forum where librarians can sit around and bemoan the fact that no one comes to them anymore.

  9. I’ve never quite figured out what it is with librarians. Such a passive lot when it comes to lobbying for money, beginning with their salaries. It’s unfortunate some retired Marine drill instructors haven’t chosen to become librarians.

  10. Chicago Public Library system, along with other Chicago city agencies is shut down today because of city budget issues. (Except for critical/emergency services) Lovely…

  11. Auntie Nanuuq says:

    “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. “

    Heck, we allow 50 requests, no charge (even if you don’t pick any of them up), you still get 10 Free pages of print on the internet, fines went up as did a few other fees, and we now have the Treasure Tax Collector’s office trolling for outstanding materials & fees from five years ago.

    I’d like to see snacks for programs cut, and maybe a one day reduction of service. I’d say Sundays, but the cities pay for that themselves.

    We already went a month and a half without scotch tape (well I had my own stash…)!

    We are now talking about p.t. staff cuts, not hiring new librarians, but we are promoting!

    I have been through this 3 times before…I guess I’ll be able to survive this one too.

  12. Roving, huh? We used to have to do that, but no longer any talk about it – we’re all too busy doing things like, oh, buying books on the ref desk in between patrons. And those who schedule us know it – they’re doing it too.

  13. NotMariantheLibrarian says:

    Being closed Sunday wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Whether you observe it or not, I think we could all use a Sabbath. There was nothing to do but go to church, stay home or visit friends/family on Sundays when I was growing up. The world might be a much nicer place if people had one day a week to do … nothing but tend to themselves and their loved ones.

    Our library, of course, is open Sundays and there is talk of expanding our hours. Not much talk of expanding staffing to cover those hours, but hey! we’re Librarians and we love our work.

  14. Not A Librarian Anymore says:

    A good example of this is the Ohio libraries state budget cuts–at first it was all individual libraries trying to rouse the patrons, creating webpages, and organizing rallies until the Ohio Library Council put a halt to it and said “Stop! We’ll handle negotiations!” and then…nothing. Losing 31% is as bad as losing the original 50% the governor proposed. Ohio was up the creek simply because the economy is that bad there, and there was no choice but to shut up the grassroots rabble as a method of dealing with it is just wrong.

  15. Again, I am baffeled that librarians are liberals. They vote for liberals, who give handouts to everyone and anyone – US citizen or not, and then whimper and cry when their funding is cut. Let’s see…cut freebies to hundreds of thousands of potential voters or to a couple of hundred librarians and their patrons. No brainer.

    WAKE UP LIBRARIANS!! Liberal democrats are not your friends. The GOP was for ending slavery (vs. southern Democrats), the GOP pushed for an ending to sufferage (Happy Birthday BTW), and the GOP loves US constitutional history in a way that liberals are trying to diminish and completely remove from school textbooks and school libraries. I actually heard a lib on TV this weekend saying the constitution was based on slavery. Huh? What school did he go to?

    So librarians, you seriously need to take a look at what has happened and is happening to you. Not saying to become a Republican, but STOP supporting those who are cutting off your hands and feet.

  16. “. . .at first it was all individual libraries trying to rouse the patrons, creating webpages, and organizing rallies until the Ohio Library Council put a halt to it and said “Stop! We’ll handle negotiations!” and then…nothing. . .”

    Gosh, it is always somebody else’s fault that something didn’t happen, isn’t it. Management, your boss, the state library association, the ALA, the Annoyed Librarian — it is always somebody else who dropped the ball or didn’t understand your noble causes.

    Librarians, the biggest bunch of passive-aggressive ninnies you will ever meet.

  17. ElderLibrarian says:

    GOP pushed for a ending to sufferage? Are you saying, TruTexan that women or African Americans should not vote? Or did you mean something else?

  18. fat and grumpy says:

    After 28 years in public and academic libraries, all I can say is “Amen” to the call for directors to stand up for the library’s they “serve.” The staff is always being told to suck up, but never are hours or services cut, and never is a press release issued explaining the outcome of cutting funding. Of course, when the system I currently work for DID cut hours proportionate to the staff cut required by the county, was there hell to pay?! You betcha! But did the director stand up and say that she was just responding to required budget cuts? Of course not.

  19. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    TruTexan – I would have to disagree with you. How in the heck can librarians vote GOP when they’re the folks who are all for invading our privacy, peering into our bedrooms, forcing their “religious” values upon us, denying benefits to same sex couples, etc. etc.? It’s the librarians voting for Republicans who baffle me – libraries are liberal and liberating institutions, something the GOP cannot claim. I am, BTW, a Texan and vote blue. Always. Even for that proverbial yellow dog.

  20. Right on NotMarianTheLibrarian.

    I was dancing in the street when the Democrats took over effective power.

    Getting rid of the Patriot Act and restoring everyone’s freedoms felt soooo good.

    God Bless you Saint Barry.

  21. the.effing.librarian says:

    I always say we should model libraries after the Post Office (not book stores): “We’re charging more, and by the way, here is our proposed rate hike for next year. Wait here until we call you. Don’t chew gum in line. Use neater penmanship. Have exact change. Why is this box leaking? When you wrote ‘books’ on this box, did you mean porn? That’ll be $26.50 for express service or $55.00 for ultra quick or $70 for rapido, but they all take about 3 days to get there.”

  22. Had it up to here says:

    Libraries are one of the most misunderstood institutions in our society. Does anyone other than a librarian know what a librarian does?
    Nope. Whenever I tell people that I am a librarian, people give me an amused, confused look. Or I get the most irritating response: “oh, that’s so cute!”

    It’s this kind of ignorance about librarianship and the value of libraries that is greatly to blame for the cutting back of our funds. One of the commissioners in my county told the library director flat outright “Libraries are a thing of the past. My daughter gets all her research done on Wikipedia.” (Paraphrased.)


    AL, you should think about writing or blogging for a newspaper of journal that reaches a bigger audience. Preferably, a non-librarian audience. It might not do much to help the inevitable decimation of library funds, but maybe it’d get people to know that librarians don’t just do a “cute job”.

  23. TruTexan commented:

    “The GOP was for ending slavery (vs. southern Democrats), the GOP pushed for an ending to sufferage….”

    Well, I’m all in favor of no more suffering too! But if TruTexan meant that the GOP wanted to extend the vote to women, perhaps s/he meant that the ‘GOP wanted to extend suffrage’??

  24. ex-children's librarian says:

    Thirty-some years ago I was a busy and happy children’s librarian. Facing major cuts in our funding from the city, I suggested we drop preschool story hours–because they were the most popular program in the library, reaching hundreds of families every week in my branch alone (and there were six other branches). I figured all those families would rise up screaming until the funds were restored.
    My colleagues were horrified, and the library director completely ignored me–never even acknowledged the suggestion.
    I still think it could have worked.

  25. TruTexan seems to have hidden under a rock for the past 50 years, or else thinks the rest of us are as ignorant and partisan as s/he is. Ending slavery? Ancient history. Try “Southern Strategy.” Maybe that sort of ill-informed historical argument works down in Texas, but for the rest of us it just sounds stupid.

  26. Original Library Cynic says:

    Anybody heard of homeless librarians yet? They are out there…….

  27. Ami Segna says:

    I think the first two posters said it all. Yes, I agree, we need to let the public feel it – but will they complain to the right people? When streets are a problem, there is no one standing on the street to complain to, so they call City Hall. When water is a problem, there is no little man in their sink to complain to, so they call City hall. We, on the other hand, have sympathetic faces and ears, and even if they SAY they will contact City Hall, they already got it off their chest ranting at us, so they never follow through.

  28. one comment I’ve found that sometimes works for getting people to call City Hall is “you know, ten phone calls is an avalanche!” (taken from a presentation by Ken Haycock)

    But that’s at the local level – not sure about the state level.

    One embarassing weakness most cities have is there spending on frivolous things like football stadiums, or swimming pools in areas where you have all the outdoor swimming you could ever want. It’s often absolutely staggering when you do the math on per capita cost, cost per hour of opening, etc.

  29. their spending not there spending! how awful – comes of posting pre 10 am.

  30. Sharon Wilbur says:

    One of the best editorials that AL has written. Except for the politics I agree with most of the comments. I work for a public library system and maybe forced into retirement because my Branch may be closed to “save” money.

  31. RadicalPatron says:

    The New York Public Library did something like what AL suggested, and it worked:

    One commenter wrote: “The high profile request from the Library coupled with an easy to use advocacy and fundraising system enabled users to send their thoughts about the Library to the people who would make the most critical decision about the Library’s future. While the Library played an important role in fighting the budget cuts, it was the people who use the Library every day who in the end shouted loud enough to be heard.”

  32. I heart that Jenifer Grady over at ALA-APA is solving this problem for us… isn’t she?

  33. To the one talking about librarians being liberal: we are not ALL liberal. I am a Republican and am well aware of the problems librarians support by being TOO NICE and enabling patrons. I’m fed up with it. It’s time we stop babying patrons and enforcing some standards in our libraries.

  34. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    And what might those standards be, AngelaB? Only nice tidy people can use the library? We purchase books that reflect the values of the GOP and its members? We hire just the straight and saved? I really want to know!

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