Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

All or Nothing Could Leave Nothing

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



  1. Real Librarian says:

    The wealthy have moved their money out of the country so changing the tax structure here does little. Plus, Congress is filled with millionaires, they write the tax code, so there are plenty of loopholes.

    Sadly, the rich can buy all the information they want by passing libraries altogether. What we need to do is put a special tax on books and information bought (exempting public libraries of course!) and use that money to fund libraries so that the poor and illegal aliens can get informed.

  2. SpongeBob Librarypants says:

    Great posting AL. Finally, someone has the cojones to state the obvious, which is that there are times when budget cuts cannot be avoided and it is better to figure out how to get by with less than to whine, fuss, and act like a prima donna.

    I have been a degreed librarian for 17 years and a library director for the last 10 years. What irks me about some of my peers is how they view librarianship as some type of high and mighty calling, beyond all reproach. In their minds the library holds the key to solving all the problems of the world and to reduce a library’s budget by even one cent is considered to be the ultimate sin of elected officials.

    We need to get over ourselves! I enjoy my job and I am thankful for it, especially given the current state of the economy. But to think that my library, which is a department of local government, should never receive a budget cut, no matter what the economic climate might be at the time, is crazy. The great majority of my career has taken place in public libraries and I consider myself a public employee first and a librarian second. If my city manager, county manager, or county commission chair tells me to reduce the budget, then I follow orders. I may ask him to consider alternatives or perhaps make an arguement against such a decision, but at the end of the day I am an employee and have to follow the directions I have been given.

    If faced with a library that offers reduced hours and fewer books or a police department with fewer officers, what is the logical choice? If the decision is between more money for the library so we can buy more books or more money for the public health department so children can receive vaccines, what should we choose? I’m sorry, but library services are not essential services and I would make the same arguement for Parks and Recreation services. Essential services include law enforcement, emergency services, and public health.

    Trying going a year with reduced library service or a year with reduced fire and EMS service and see which one produces the most dire results. Libraries are wonderful and they fulfill an important role, but they are not essential. Society will not collapse into a second Dark Age if a library has to close at 7 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. during the week. Civilization will not crumble to the ground just because the book budget was cut by 20%. Deal with it!

    Once again, a great post from the AL.

  3. Joneser says:

    AL, I thought you were too smart to fall for the “unionized public sector workers aren’t suffering” mistruth. I haven’t had a raise in three years. We’ve had staff and materials budget cuts, yet activity and demands are up (especially among those wanting to read anything recommended by Glenn Beck, Mr. “libraries are free!”).

    You’re also falling for the simplistic “the only way to help/kill things is to raise taxes on the wealthy (which is never defined)”. And that bit about “yacht” taxes – well, the CPO has stated that the temporary tax cuts on the truly wealthy during the Bush years have contributed more to the deficit than the cost of our two current wars combined.

    Libraries vary from state to state in how they are financed. Some libraries have heavy state support. Others get most of their funding from their municipalities or county, and they are suffering because the governors pushed things down farther (especially if they are coyly not mentioning that they are running for president) and the burden falls on property taxes. Councils and commissioners in turn don’t want to raise taxes because they want to be re-elected. But heaven forbid they should acknowledge the effect of the cuts they are making!

    So your arguments here are too one-dimensional and your facts too incomplete to deal with the very complex economic situation we’re facing right now. At the risk of sounding like a Millenial, you’ve got at least three “fails” in this post.

  4. I think the people who say libraries shouldn’t be cut are simply playing the game. If everyone else is clamoring against cuts to their cause or organization, and libraries take a rational approach and agree that cuts are needed, they will be the first to receive cuts.

    Being rational gets you nowhere in the political realm.

  5. Aw Shucks says:

    Spongebob, as a private citizen, I agree with most of your points. It is common sense that cuts must be made and there are higher priorities than library service.

    However, you are a library director, and your primary responsibility is to your organization. Not to the police, and not to the fire department. They have their own advocates, and 99 times out of 100, those advocates carry a lot more political weight than the library’s. If you’re not fighting for every dollar you can get, you’re not doing your job.

  6. Spekkio says:

    “Increased taxes supposedly on “the wealthy” often backfire.”

    This sounds suspiciously similar to “voodoo economics.” Yes, I can see where a tax on yachts could backfire. But what about taxes on upper income brackets? What about taxes on certain bank/investment transactions (like ‘credit default swaps’) á la the UK’s ‘Robin Hood’ tax?

  7. Everyone that agrees with this blog post should lead by example and resign their positions.

  8. SpongeBob Librarypants says:

    Aw Shucks, you make a valid point. I would just say that as a library director it is my responsibility to develop a realistic budget request every year for my library’s annual budget. However, I think sometimes people submit budget requests that are either 1) grossly inflated or that are 2) simply what they got last year plus 10%. There should be a method to budgeting and to budget requests, not just “give me 10% more than last year.”

    Library directors do have to advocate for the necessary financial support for their libraries. However, you reach a point of no return when the powers that be have made up their minds and further arguement only alienates and infuriates people that, at a later time, might be able to give you support in other ways. You have to pick your battles and be willing to put your guns up when you realize a decision has been reached, even if it is a decision with which you do not agree.

    I would also add that I am a private citizen as well as a public employee and a library director. As such I believe that I have every right to advocate and support the police department, the fire department, and any other governmental department or service I choose to support. Sure, I don’t actively advocate for them in my role as a library director, but once I leave the office and take off the employee ID I feel perfectly free to support better pay for police officers, new equipment for firefighters, higher pay for teachers, etc.

    Again, I am very thankful for my job. I enjoy my job. I also realize that there are things in life more important than libraries.

  9. AppreciativeUser says:

    SpongeBob Librarypants – thank you for sharing your thoughtful insights about what it’s like to continue trying to do your best in very difficult circumstances.

  10. Real Librarian says:

    Since when do library directors know what is best for the library?

    They are either sucking up to local politicians, going to meetings, flying off to a sex and booze filled conference, or some such things.

    Stick them out there with the public and they would empty their bowels and go off running for mama.

  11. Since the majority of operating budgets for libraries pay for labor, cuts to libraries mean cuts to workers. The argument made by the AL chides people for acting in self-interest but I doubt there are many people whose jobs on the line who are advocating for cuts in their libraries. Let’s be honest, we are not talking about increased efficiencies in library practices here because nobody would disagree. Workers throughout the country are forgoing pay, paying more out of their pockets for benefits and working a lot harder regardless of the fact that layoffs are always looming on the horizon.

    I disagree with the presupposition of this article; this is not an economic issue. There are far poorer societies that have much more robust welfare than we do. This is the wealthiest country in the world and one of the most unequal amongst developed nations, so to say that we do not have the money to provide basic services is completely dishonest. Libraries are not a luxury; access to a broad variety of information and a quiet and safe place to digest it are essential to a free society, much like elections. Elections are incredibly expensive, but nobody is willing to forgo them in lean times and that is the exact way we should portray public libraries. Maybe the free book/video store versions of public libraries are luxuries, but not the public library which serves as the intellectual and cultural center of the communities they serve.

    The only thing I wholeheartedly agree with in this article is that we shouldn’t just advocate for libraries, we should stand up for the entire public sector along with other public sector workers. We should not expect cuts to the public sector to come back because they rarely do, and we should resist any attempts attempts at privatization.

    “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

  12. AppreciativeUser says:

    Daniel – the anti-govt rhetoric of the past 30years has helped get us here. Interestingly, one of the reasons we can’t pay for more things at home is because the same folks who’ve demonized the government have exalted the military. So… we’ve got 15,000 marines in Okinawa, Japan at the same time our fire & police are being cut here at home. Other wealthy nations (in Europe, for example) are able to provide better public support for their citizens because the U.S. pays a significant portion for their defense…

    Some info here:

  13. Ezekiel says:

    Maybe you should get off your high horse and provide some evidence for the sweeping generalizations you make in posts like this one.

    The income tax rate on the top 2% was pushed down to 35% as a result of the GWB tax cuts. It had previously been at 39.5%. Just that amount of revenue alone would be sufficient to keep a whole host of currently-endangered public services afloat during the current recession.

    Do you know what the top 2% paid under Reagan? How about during the ’50s and ’60s? I can tell you that it was a heck of a lot more than even 39.5%. And that was seen as a common sense approach to a graduated tax rate until neoliberal market policies made very low tax rates the “new normal.”

    But your argument is that “everyone will leave” if we raise taxes on wealthier Americans. I would ask that you please provide sufficient evidence to back this claim up, especially in light of the fact that plenty of Americans failed to mount a mass exodus while they prospered during the Clinton years (that long-ago time when everything was different).

  14. I’ve directed a libraries for 18 years and I do work with the public at the circ desk and at reference. Every day is a surprise, but it gives me a very good idea about what the public wants. Also agree with spongebob in that submitting a totally unrealistic budget request, when you know — or should know — that we’re all city deparmtents are playing in the same swimming pool, only shows one’s inability or unwillingness to be part of a team. My city manager appreciates all his department heads because we are all willing to do what it takes to present a balanced budget each year for City Council approval. We don’t work in a vacuum.

  15. If you are a director and spend so much time working the circ desk (every hear of automation?) or reference (ever hear of Google?),just who runs your library?

  16. I Like Books says:

    Raising taxes would increase tax revenue.

    Whether everything else that results would be a good thing is a matter for debate. But let’s at least not run around saying that higher taxes means less revenue and lower taxes means more. It’s been said, but historically, in the US, it’s just not true.

    According to a standard theory by some famous economist whose name I’ve forgotten, there’s a curve of tax revenue versus tax rate. If the tax rate is zero, the revenue is zero because nothing is collected. If the tax is 100%, the revenue is zero because all economic activity would be stifled. Somewhere in the middle is a point of maximum tax revenues. We are somewhere to the left of that point. Higher taxes would stifle economic activity to a certain extent, but taxes in the United States have never been so stiflingly high that a higher tax rate would decrease revenues.

    That’s not to say that the greatest good is served by the highest tax revenues (for instance, the maximum of JOBS per tax rate would probably fall at a different point), that the monies collected are currently being allocated to the greatest good, or that libraries shouldn’t take a share of budget cuts. Just saying where we stand on the curve.

  17. Techserving You says:

    Many of the librarians I know who work in public libraries… heck, many of the librarians I know who work in any type of library… are lazy and entitled. This is particularly true of generalist reference librarians. I think states and municipalities can safely cut plenty of jobs, and library “service” will not suffer. Put up more signs to direct people to the bathroom.

  18. Understanding librarian says:

    I can definitely understand the need to make cuts in this economic climate. Unfortunately, libraries need to make cuts also but sometimes I wish the powers that be would ask how the cuts should be made. Should hours of operation be scaled back, positions eliminated or cut some resources? A small town in my area almost closed the entire town library because of fiscal problems. I would rather see a cut back in services and resources than to see the library closed completely.

  19. librarian says:

    Why can’t the military take a cut? They just got an extra $33 Billion. I’d rather have a library than pay the Pakistanis to pay the Taliban to fight us.

  20. Historically there is no correlation between tax cuts to the rich, and job creation or higher government revenues. Simply put, when those in the upper income brackets are given a lower tax rate, they are going to suck more money out of a business as the form of “personal income”. A raise, a bonus etc when you are only paying 28 percent gives more incentive to take money OUT of a business, than when you are going to pay 70 percent on it.

    Which is why the 1950s through the mid 1970s were the period of the greatest economic growth in American history. 3.9 percent growth of GDP ever year on average for over 25 years. Highest rates of job creation. The rich will do anything to avoid paying taxes, so what they were forced to do by these high top marginal tax rates, was to create a “non liquid” wealth for themeselves, and the nation as well.

    Low top marginal tax rates favor profit taking for individuals over “wealth creation” for the entire nation and society.

    When the top marginal tax rates were pared back to 28 percent, GDP was cut in half and a new economic event occurred. The jobless recovery. Because the remuneration of the wealthy is no longer “coupled” to the remuneration of the working classes, due to changes in the tax codes in the 1980’s, a corporation gets the same tax break if it gives the CEO a billion dollar bonus, or if it uses that same billion dollars to hire more workers.

  21. P.S. this decoupling occurred when the allowed deductibility ratio of 25 times was removed from the tax codes. That is before the changes of the 1980’s was free to compensate a CEO whatever they wanted, but the highest they could deduct as a legitimate business expense was 25 times what that company paid the lowest employee. Before that time executive compensation averaged ten times what the lowest employee made, largely because if the executives wanted a large raise, they had to throw enough crumbs to everyone throughout the company to keep the ratio within the deductibility limits.

    If they wanted to exceed those limits, the CEO had to do something exceptional. That is his rewards were directly linked to his performance.

  22. Yes, defense is the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about.

    You can argue about social spending, but in economic terms, social spending is “circular”. When the government gives out social benefits, every sector of the economy benefits, and the result is usually that one dollar given out by government in social benefits results in much more than one dollar being returned to the total economy. Because it is not money that is being blown up overseas.
    It is being spent in local supermarkets, at local big box stores, at the local pharmacy, in local doctors offices, who go out and spend the little portions of that money they get from their clients in other local businesses.

    Economists know well the negative economic ratio of defense spending. One dollar spent on defense only returns 50 cents to the economy.

    Getting to this ratio is simple. We spend 12 percent of GDP on defense, and it ends up making up 6 percent of GDP.
    Defense returns a small amount of money to government revenues, because of the small percent of the population that works in the defense sector, but it is not enough to offset the sucking noise of defense dollars being flushed away overseas.

  23. Real Librarian says:

    NJ said “one dollar given out by government in social benefits results in much more than one dollar being returned to the total economy”


    You have solved the economic dilemma we are in.

    Put everyone on welfare and watch the money grow.

  24. Actually I have solved it. Or rather it was not me, it was Herbert Hoover. Just before the 1932 elections he realized he was just going to have to give in an raise the top marginal tax rates in order to deal with the Great Depression caused by the three Republican tax cuts of the 1920’s dropping the top tax rate from 71 percent to 25 percent. This created massive speculative investment, primarily in real estate, a market bubble and a collapse, because the Republicans in power simply did not have the government intervene.

    When he raised the top tax rate to 65 percent, lo and behold, the collapse in GDP slowed down then started reversing itself

    In fact recent polls show that the PUBLIC agrees with me. That the Bush Tax cuts NEVER should have been enacted and that the GOVERNMENT should have used the money to create jobs. Recent Gallop polls say that it should be the government that uses the money directly to create jobs and that the private sector, and the wealthy cannot be relied on to do so.

    It has been decades since the idea that “businesses take risks and therefore are entitled to huge profits” has been true. More than half of GDP is related to GOVERNMENT spending.

    Which means for the 3 trillion dollars in government spending, you are getting close to 7 trillion in GDP. No business can even come close to that sort of profit margin.

  25. Tax cuts, contrary to conservative myths, have never created a job, therefore they CANNOT create additional government revenues.

    The idea that tax cuts do this fail the smell test on both the macro and micro economic levels.

    The way a mature economy works, on both of those levels, additional investment is not only not REQUIRED it is not allowed. Thus all new investments do is distort the Main Street Market in the shadow economy of the Wall Street market.

    This is why the United States is now the second most small business unfriendly economy on the planet, with only 7.9 percent of our businesses being in the small business sector. This sector creates 70 percent of all jobs, and the other more than 90 percent only creates 30 percent, but it skims huge amount of wealth out of the main street economy in the markets.

    The answer is in fact, MORE welfare, not less.

    You can trust the average person getting welfare to spend that money in the REAL consumer market where it will do some good, than a wealthy CEO to NOT use his excess wealth in speculative manners that make him a lot of dough, while sending the rest of the economy into a tailspin.

    This is what a recession is. The sucking sound of the rich skimming profits out of the economy as personal income.

  26. PS, the private sector did NOTHING to end the Great Depression. It was ALL government spending that ended it. Jobs creation, unemployment checks and then government spending on WWII.

  27. And anyone who simply compares can see. Before the huge tax cuts of Reagan, America was number 1 economically. Worldwide. No other nation could come close. GDP has never been higher than when tax rates were above 90 percent.

    Now America has fallen to an average increase of GDP of about 2 percent.

    All you need do is compare ALL of the prime economic data for the two quarter century periods. 1950-1975, and 1980 -2005.

    Conservative economic ideas do not even come close to producing a growth economy.

  28. The deal is simple. Anyone with intelligence can see it.

    We have had the hugest tax cut in history that has extended over the last ten years. We should be in the middle of a booming economy. We are not.

    The reason is that the cause of the housing market bubble was not subprime loans, it was the source of the investment dollars that created those subprime loans. The trillion dollars in Bush tax cuts that went to the top two percent of income earners.

    The RICH do NOT start businesses with their tax cuts. Thats for idiots and the unschooled. It takes a lot of hard work for at best a five percent profit margin.

    No,No, No, the rich do not to that. Thats purely squaresville thinking.

    What the rich do is go look for a hot sector of the market to speculate in, because speculative investments can earn a fast turnaround profit of 15- 20 percent.

    The conservative hype that if you give the rich a tax cut, they WILL use it to start businesses or expand existing ones was ancient history when they started using it.

    It stopped working that way when the first corporation was allowed to divest the owners of the corporations of almost all of the risk to their personal fortunes. After that there was really no risk to the CEOs of 90 percent of the companies in the US. Probably a higher percentage.

    They get to walk with their mansions, yachts and limos, as well as their huge personal fortunes, as the corporation slides into oblivion.

  29. Real Librarian says:

    Good job NJ!

    How about we go one step further, lets eliminate the private sector and have everyone work for the government. They will provide everything we need and will be ultimately more fair than the free market.

    This system is working well in the Soviet Union

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