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Friday, April 6, 2012

on budgets, and libraries, and maybe being a little spoiled

Today I am going to talk about -- wait for it -- library budgets.

Now, I have no personal experience dealing with library budgets. I have never had to manage a library budget or find funds for the library, though I have talked to many people (including my favorite librarians) about them. So up front I would like to put a warning: I may be wrong. I may mess up my facts. But if you are knowledgeable on this subject, please just let me know what I did wrong (via comments or email) and I will correct the error.

Now, onto the subject of library budgets.

In this more modern era, libraries are being regarded a little differently. They're still used, and used widely, but at the same time they seem to be considered "old" in the public culture and the amount of patrons they have is smaller than in past years. (This is a complete wide stroke; I know that there are some libraries that have more patrons or the same amount -- I'm basing this on what I personally know and articles I've read). However, if there are fewer patrons, one of the things that gets cut? The budget.

A simple Google search of "library budget cut" has over 53 MILLION hits. The Yahoo search with the same key words gives me 64 MILLION hits. This is a problem, and there are many saddening stories that go along with it. (Search "library budget cut" yourself and read some of the articles.)

Before I move on to more info on the budgets, I'll share my own personal story. I attended a large library, a huge one, for many years. It was one of the largest libraries in our county, had thousands of people attend it a year, and had a huge book collection. The stacks were constantly being updated and were filled with hundreds of new books a year.

This is a picture of what the library looked like from the outside. It looks small in this picture but it is quite large.

I loved that library. It was big and huge and fun, and I read tons of great middle grade literature (I was mainly reading MG at the time) and I loved seeing the new books. The library was always interesting and had something new to offer. The new book shelf was always huge, the shelves were always updated with the newest titles, I could look a book up in the catalog and check it out immediatly. It seemed like they had EVERY book ever (this is an exaggeration of course, but they did have quite a few)

And I started to get maybe a little spoiled. I mean this that I expected every library to be like this, huge and full of new books.

Then I moved three hours away, to a much smaller town. My town has a library. But it's small. Here's the teen section:

This is not the entire teen section. There is more to it. But the shelf you see in the picture on the left, with those nonfiction titles? The teen section is made up of those shelves -- thick brown shelves with books on both sides. There are three of those double-sided shelves.

And there aren't many new books in the collection. The pictures don't show it, but there is a spinning rack of new titles. Except when those new titles come in, they sit. They aren't replaced by newer titles. They sit for a month or two until someone finally puts them into the regular collection. Yes, this library is much smaller. This does not mean that it is bad or worse or better than the other library -- it's a good library, there's nice books and fantastic librarians.

And I like it just as much as the other one.

Now that I've told you about my libraries, onto the story. The first big library is part of a huge group of libraries in an especially large county, and as I mentioned, that library was one of the biggest in that county. I read an article last year talking about library budgets and one library mentioned was in fact, my old library. (This was in a professional journal, just to show you the prestige that surrounds this library). In the article, a woman was saying that she wasn't concerned about her budget, because the library had an $8 million dollar budget.

Yes, 8 million dollars. A year.

Now, back to the other library. I was talking to the teen librarian at this new library, Amy. Amy is the main teen librarian and the one who basically runs the teen section herself. She told me that she was starting to plan summer reading and that they had cut the budget for the program. Again. She had started to plan out a few events -- a writing workshop, a program on dreams and a program on the stars -- but now she was stuck. The money was nearly gone and there was hardly anything she could think of to do that didn't involve some kind of cost.

Yes, that's a huge difference.

I'm not saying that it's bad that one library received $8 million dollars a year -- they use it wisely and they serve a larger population.

But the truth is, and it's a very very real truth, is that some libraries have trouble and they have very small budgets and they just cannot afford much.

They can't buy new books or fund huge events or new technology. (The second library has a self-checkout but it barely works). Some libraries are in danger of closing because they don't receive enough patrons. The number of things that can happen go on and on -- the books and technology are outdated, people don't come, etc etc. It sounds vaguely like a zombie film.

But it's reality for some libraries, and it's becoming more and more of an issue.

And I am not suggesting that all libraries are in financial ruin -- there are some very successful libraries, like the $8 million dollar/huge one.

But it's an issue. Libraries are in danger of closing. People are in danger of losing their jobs, citizens are in danger of losing the materials they need.

And that scares me.

And I wish I could fix the problem. My librarian friend and I were thinking of some ways to solve the issue. Use old supplies from previous programs, make crafts and such that are cheap and inexpensive.

But fixing the problem will be hard. We can solve this problem at our library, but does that mean that thousands of other libraries will be out of financial ruin? No.

I'm glad to say that there are some people trying to help, that it's not completely hopeless for everyone. Check out Authors for libraries and the amazing youtube series our authors, our advocates. And those are simply two programs that deal with authors helping. There are tons of others helping, teachers and librarians and students. You may have seen this video, too. So there are people trying to help. It's a problem and one that will not be fixed easily.

But it can be fixed.
We can try.

We started to think of some solutions at our library; we can all think of solutions somehow.

We can fight to keep our libraries.

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