Annoyed Librarian
Search ....
Subscribe to LJ
Inside Annoyed Librarian

Sacrifices Must be Made

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.


Please note that new comments for all posts on this blog have been closed.


  1. Well said. If only this same even-tempered logic was turning up in all sectors this whole budget debate would be much more civilized.

  2. AL, in the big library funding picture, federal monies constitute a very, very small drip in the bucket. Libraries thrive when the economy is humming and the state and local tax bases (which are the primary support of public libraries) are increasing, not decreasing. The question librarians should be asking, therefore, with regard to federal policy, is how do we grow the economy. My guess is that’s also the number one priority on President Obama’s agenda (assuming he wants to be re-elected).

  3. Annoyed Librarian says:

    I agree, Will, and I believe the economy won’t be stronger without reducing the federal deficit somehow, either through raising taxes or cutting spending, which means some things have to go. I’d rather see the end of federal spending on libraries than the end of federal spending on Social Security or Medicare or defense.

  4. AL…I could do without a war or two!

  5. I think you are too idealistic in thinking that librarians can somehow be impartial about the budget. You are talking to a profession where the people (i.e. the librarians) construct a library work environment that does nothing more than protect their jobs even at the expense of innovation.

  6. The budget of the Defense Department makes government spending on libraries look like a rounding error. The DoD budget has increased by more than 10% over the last two decades. At the end of the first of those two decades we had a budget surplus by the way.

    It’s flawed reasoning like this article that plays right into the hands of people who want to cut the paltry sums that fund basic social services instead of wildly inflated military spending and corporate welfare outlays, all because of the imaginary deficit monster that they created.

  7. Annoyed Librarian says:

    You make a good point, bob. What if I specify that by “defense” I actually mean defense. Not waging foreign wars or meddling in foreign countries or building unnecessary weapons to keep defense contractors wealthy. I mean what it would take to defend this country from all manner of attacks. That would still cost a lot of money, and it would still trump library spending as a national priority. If the choice ever came down to Social Security or Medicare or defense and libraries, everyone but librarians would choose one or more of the former every time.

    So I disagree that I’m playing into anyone’s hands. I don’t see how a post can be aiding people who want to cut basic social services when it specifically asks, “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?”

    Libraries have never been a basic social service of the federal government.

  8. I don’t believe anyone is advocating the cutting of basic social services in favor of library funding, AL. I imagine that they were thinking more about cutting the funds for those foreign wars in foreign countries and those unnecessary weapons for the benefit of contractors. I think library funding is *already* a very, very tiny part of the federal budget compared to stuff like military expenditures.

  9. It isn’t really fare to count defense as what you want it to mean. What matters is what the money is spent on.

    The DoD budget does not reflect the two wars the US has been fighting. Iraq and Afghanistan have been funded separately from the general defense department budget. The DoD budget is almost fully half of the federal budget (and is more than the next 10 largest national defense budgets combined). Canceling a few 5th generation fighters would easily pay for library services across the country.

    If libraries have never been a basic service of the federal government, why even write about federal budget cuts on a library blog?

  10. AL,

    The ALA is as of today officially supporting the striking unions nationwide.

    Given what you said in this blog post, would you care to address this latest ALA venture into another non-library topic (except, of course, if the ALA makes the usual ridiculous stretch)? “[T]he value of library service and staff should be recognized and protected.”

  11. When we talk about Defense spending, we are not talking about payrolls of sevicemembers, who are vastly underpaid for what they do or what they know. We’re talking about bases and weapons systems, half we don’t need.

    What about proper funding of the VA, or even give the department a budget increase? The VA is non-defense discretionary spending, just like libraries.

    But let’s support the troops with more talk!

    The sheer waste in Medicare & Medicaid or Social Security? Or the debt’s interest that were not paying on in the least. Just the 3 budget items alone with Defense account for 49% of the budget.

    Your post is not being honest in the depth of the problem. In order to balance the budget and pay on the debt we would need to start SERIOUS cutting in Defense, edicare & Medicaid and Social Security. Cutting all non-defense discretionary spending is not going to get us out of this, besides YOU wouldn’t want that just like I wouldn’t. And that’s not being selfish.

  12. @Sean Mars
    Quick correction…Social Security doesn’t add to the deficit. It never has. A minor adjustment to Social Security taxes would shore the program up beyond 2030.

    Otherwise, I agree about making more serious cuts to Defense. Medicare and Medicaid…well, the PPACA (derogatory term: “ObamaCare”) includes provisions to try to at least reduce their spending growth. Further reforms could make even more of a difference without harming people’s health. (For example: allow the Federal government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to get lower prices on commonly-used medications.)

    To get back on the topic of libraries…I agree pretty much entirely about the “21st Century Librarian Program.” The last thing we need is more LIS PhDs. The school library program…I’d like to know what the funds get spent on. If it’s for up-to-date reference materials, that’s one thing. If it’s to replace worn-out copies of those horrid “Twilight” books, that’s another matter entirely.

  13. While I don’t miss the lies, torture, administrative incompetence, oppression of gay people, and economic meltdown we experienced under George W. Bush, even a liberal like me agrees that the criticism of President Obama in the School Library Journal article for his cuts of federal spending on libraries is misguided. Schools and public libraries are administered at the local level through cities, counties, and states. It’s not reasonable to expect federal funding of local government. We should probably eliminate the IMLS entirely. This won’t put much of a dent in the deficit, but since we decided that schools and public libraries are best governed at the local level, we should stop devoting federal funds to schools, public libraries, and other local government agencies.

  14. Keytar Girl says:

    You know how many people outside of the library field care about this? None.

    I can think of a dozen national issues that are more pressing than this issue is to me. So I might lose my library job due to funding. Guess what? That’s the reality of many professions these days. I’ll just get a straw and suck it up and move on.

    Your blog is refreshing. Some library bloggers and commentators can be so whiny at times.

  15. LittleLibrarian says:

    Yes, we do not need more PhD’s right now, and we do not need to be stepping into the fray over collective bargaining. What will it take for there to be a rational discussion over the deficit?

  16. rollingeyeslibrarian says:

    It appears we need more Bobs in this round of commentary. I agree with him with a capital A. When the overblown budget is more evenly managed, and we stop playing the penny-wise, pound poor game with federal finances, then and only then will I support a leaner structure for libraries. If we are to be valued by our communities and local government structures, we cannot cut staff to the point where we have no partnering ability to make a community difference with literacy or helping people learn computers to find jobs. According to ICMA’s report, these are the things people want libraries to do in these times, yet government is self-endorsing at every level the necessity to take away our ability to do these essential functions to get us back on track. Must I remind everyone that most libraries never had the luxury to exist in any fashion of state of grace so taking away from our local funding when they are repeatedly stripping services that have already been paired down in other departments still makes little sense. Most of us have simply never existed with the apportioned fat funding that other departments did so that we would not become circumspect for cutting in leaner budget years. And we do realize the state of our budgets. Libraries watch as every department gets year and year in most cases. Perhaps the better question here is, “What are we not doing collectively to prove our worth?” We are supposed to be key in getting our communities back to work. Perhaps the most crucial question is “Where are the jobs?” as it does no one any good to create an even more competitive market with no jobs to support it. Now that is the real answer to growing the economy. The truth is no one is going to miss our not being open for business if we are not making ourselves a real necessity. With all that said and including the ability to put my self-interest aside, I absolutely acknowledge Ben’s point that we are a bunch of ridiculously indoctrinated people who refuse to look at reality when it takes us out of our convenience model for any reason. I am glad someone recognizes this and readily acknowledges it. I’m not convinced that outsourcing the whole of our work is innovation but the fact is we are agenda-oriented and tremendously manipulative when spinning our own justification for protection against earnest work in some cases and certainly when thoughts of being marginalized are weighed. Yes, we have a tendency to indemnify everything in our power rather than to look at the whole of humanity or even the bettering of our own communities. Getting people in the door with fancy titling of institutions, branding and so forth is not going to improve government’s need to see us as imperative when looking at harshly strapped budgets. It’s going to cause them to see us as the circumspect, hair-brained, spend-thrift charlatans we are being. We need to be concentrating on product and services, not building improvements…and fancy labeling service models! We are sending the wrong messages to our leaders at the wrong time! What are we offering them that can’t be lost?

  17. Randal Powell says:

    You should not discount the power of marketing Rolling Eyes Librarian. Coca Cola makes around 6.8 billion dollars a year off of well-marked sugar water.

  18. wiunion says:

    How about let’s not ask AL to address the ALA stance on collective bargaining. As a graduate student attending a university that is already feeling the negative effects of this bill and budget, someone seeking a job most likely in the public sector, and a mother to someone who will be attending this state’s public schools in a few short years, I really don’t need to hear what I expect to be a bunch of vitriol towards public workers. And, yes, as someone in the eye of the storm, it has everything to do with both public and academic librarians.

    Love the blog, but since I don’t believe I’ve read one positive note on ALA here, let’s just not invite this one, please.

  19. overmatik says:

    Cuts will indeed happen on the public sector, and libraires will suffer a lot. As far as the military is concerned, get real folks, the only way for the funding is up. The military owns this country.

  20. The DoD budget has increased by more than 10% over the last two decades.

    Ok…20 years, and each year the adjustment for inflation is what, 3%-4%? If we tallied up 20 years of proper increases, then the total increase in defense spending since 1990 should be a 60% to 80%, No?

    Or another way to put this, A 10% increase over 20 years yeilds a .05% per year. That’s way below 3-4% inflation. It sounds to me like Defense has been getting the short end of the stick.

    There’s a 500 lb gorilla in the room, and his name in Entitlement. And he constitutes far more of the budget than the military…


    Blue is Income, red is expenditures, all estimates…anyone else notice that even if we closed everything and JUST spent on the military, we couldn’t even afford half of our current military budget??? How dire does it need to get before we actually put on the glasses and make the hard cuts in Mandatory Spending that we have to make??

Optimization WordPress Plugins & Solutions by W3 EDGE