My name is Jessica Storrs.Welcome to the Social Sciences Division’s program on public library advocacy. I have been a librarian for 16 years at AFSCME in Washington DC. That very awkward acronym stands for the American Federation of State County & Municipal Employees, we are a labor union representing mainly state and local government workers. AFSCME has over 1.6 million across the United States and over 25,000 are librarians and library workers, making us the largest US union for library employees. We have library members in the public libraries of Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Seattle, Boston and also the Library of Congress. Joining me is Lolita Griffin, Carl Sorrel, and Rosie Carter, all of the Chicago Public Library and AFSCME Local 1215. Lolita is a librarian and a union trustee and will be telling us about the budget cuts at Chicago Public library and how the union has been advocating for restored funding. Carl is the president of Local 1215, and Rosie is And I wanted to thank them for being with us today. But first, I’m going to provide an overview of what is going on across the country in library funding, why it matters, and what you can do about it.
Libraries in the US are still feeling the effects of the recession that began in 2007. In May 2012 the Pew Charitable Trusts released a study that summed up the Catch 22 of library services in a recession - and in a nutshell – demand for services soars while the budget for resources plummets. Libraries are more popular than ever before but at the same time state and local governments are struggling and cutting their budgets. http://www.pewtrusts.org/our_work_report_detail.aspx?id=85899373217Eleanor librarian in Vancouver
These statistics come from the American Libraries Association released this year. Flat funding & decreased…. – that’s the reality. Seattle’s circulation has increased 50% over the last 6 years. Urban libraries serve a disproportionally large population compared to the rural areas.2012 State of America’s Library Report, April 2012http://www.ala.org/news/pr?id=10057ALA Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study, June 2012http://www.ala.org/research/plftas/2011_2012ALA affirms that publicly funded libraries should remain directly accountable to the publics they serve. Therefore, the American Library Association opposes the shifting of policy making and management oversight of library services from the public to the private for-profit sector.
Now now I want to back up and talk about something very basic: why do public libraries matter. We all sort of “know” they matter but I want to spell out some of the reasons because WE need to be able to spell out the reasons. Saying that’s the library is “good thing” isn’t going to cut it anymore. Warm fuzzy feelings are nice, but we need facts. For one - digital divide is still very real and libraries provide free online access to people who otherwise do not have other options. I think most of us just take it for granted that we are never more than a few steps from the internet no matter where we are. It’s just there. For many people, it isn’t. Libraries have become society’s default providers of computers and internet access.
As librarians we sometimes need to demonstrate our worth to the organization using ROI, and many public libraries have done the same thing and come up with formulas showing what each dollar spent at the library returns in overall all value. Many of us work in large organizations with access to many resources but small businesses don’t have that luxury – so the public library can help to level the playing field when local businesses need resources for market research, creating business plans, etc. http://librariesmatter.ala.org/taxonomy/term/129
So aside from the numbers – and I feel I’m preaching to the choir here – the value added to a community by the library can’t always be quantified. For example ……. I think we forget how dramatic that is. You do not find this world wide. Libraries truly make it their mission to serve everyone in their community. Ray Bradbury once said ‘You’re looking for yourself in the library”. Libraries take this mission seriously. Libraries often do special outreach to their immigrant populations because they are not from places where anything like this existed.
Job resources and government e-benefits or family has cut out cable & internet service and going to the movies and now accesses the internet at the library and checks out DVDs for entertainment. They aren’t buying books anymore, they are borrowing them. And this has been a big factor in the increase in library usage over the last few years. Privacy – has always been a central tenet of libraries. You can read what you want and it’s no one else’s business. This issue only gets more important as we get deeper into the digital age and e-book lending and what that means to us as patrons. Libraries are very much on the front lines of having debates regarding privacy with the publishers and being the messenger to patrons exactly what e-book privacy policies are so they can make informed decisions.Civic engagement – this can take many forms but one example: I was just ALA last month, and one of the more intriguing sessions I attended was about libraries providing a place for civil, informed and moderated forums on controversial issues. They bring in people with differing views and get them to talk. The idea is that it is the anti-Fox News versus MSNBC. Real people. And what is most exciting, is this is happening in communities that are often homogenous in their political views and don’t often get to interact with real people with opposite opinions. The demonization element is removed. Who knew that a civil discussion of anything possible anymore? Community building hub, an anchors of community life that fosters broader and more creative interaction. Third place is where you interact and engage with your community. Bond are formed, information is shared, etc. A third place can take many forms but it’s very much part of a fulfilling existence. And libraries are one of these places.
So what are people doing when cuts are threatened? I wanted to show you some examples of library advocacy.
In December 2010 Patrons emptied the libraries shelves in Stony Stratford when library closures were threatened. Every book was taken. 16,000. This issue is ongoing but the library has been funded in the meantime.
A number of knit ins have been held at the Toronto public library to protest budget cuts and during the staff strike. In 2012 Stephanie Pearl-McPhee joined a March knit in (COLD) lending her voice, and her fame, to the cause. Need a good yarn? Go to you local LIBRARY
The last example I wan to show you – 2011 Troy public library needed funds so the issue was put to a vote. Here’s what happened.This campaign created a certain amount of controversy. People don’t like being duped, even for a good cause. So this strategies is not without risks. But at the same time, a lot of people responded to it.
This photo came out of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It went viral in library circles and beyond. It’s funny – on one hand, it’s playing into the stereotype of the timid librarian - but I think it also speaks to the fact that we’re also not seen as wild-eyed partisans. We are fortunate to be in a profession that is generally well respected and trusted. We are not seen as self-serving. So if the librarians are mobilizing then the message is “something has gone wrong” - and not because something has gone wrong for the librarians, but because something has gone wrong for the community. We have credibility. So we need to use that.
These are the core values of librarianship. Isn’t this a great list? You can almost hear the Star Spangled Banner playing in the background. The other consideration is what are these budget cuts doing to the profession of librarianship. You can’t turn the keys of the library over to just anyone and assume these principals will be adhered to. When the ratio of professionals start dropping - to accommodate shrinking budgets – AND the number of low skill staff and/or volunteers rises, questions surface about whether the library is truly meeting it’s mission to the community. Will it be able to innovate, will it be inclusive in it’s collection development, will it hold sacred patron confidentiality. . Or are you creating a building of books that is staffed by book babysitters. Example, there is a controversy happening in Trenton NJ right now. Four neighborhood libraries were closed in 2010. Now the mayor has decided to reopen them, one center has two paid staffers and one of them is a security guard, and the rest are volunteers. They are now known as “learning centers”. They can’t call them libraries anymore because they no longer meet the state legal definition of a library. It’s a now a “public building with books”. The collection is static because there is no one to update it. One on hand, some people are applauding having something versus nothing. But at what point does that “solution” actually become a liability for the community. At what point does the community deserve better?
One of the most effective ways to advocate for a library is to bring together various community groups who may normally have very different agendas, and get them rally around the library. So if you are part of an organization in the community - or even your employer depending on where you work – lending the support of a separate group can speak volumes and help draw the attention of the community to the cause. Frankly, the more out there the group is the better. If you’re a member of a local Harley Davidson club and you got them to throw their support behind the library and show up for a rally, I guarantee that the local newspaper will print a big picture with the headline “Bikers for Books”. And that’s media you earned – you didn’t have to pay for it. Think outside the boxSpread the word – in big and small ways. Facebook. Librarians are all over twitter. When something gets their attention the news will spread far & wide. Use hashtags to get more eyes on your posts. Cc: politicians, the library, local journalists, etc.
We will not be shushed
WE WILL NOT BE SHUSHEDWhatever the cost of our libraries, the price ischeap compared to that of an ignorant nation.‘ - Walter Cronkite
ELEANOR CRUMBLEHULME: “Cutting Libraries in a Recession is like Cutting Hospitals in a Plague”
THE BAD NEWS A majority of public libraries report flat or decreased funding despite rising circulation 9% of libraries reduced hours (16% of urban libraries) 65% report insufficient computers to meet demand Layoffs, furloughs & hiring freezes Communities looking to privatization
WHY LIBRARIES MATTER: BY THE NUMBERS 62% of libraries are the only source of free internet access in the community 92% provide access to jobs databases 76% provide help to patrons filling out online job applications 96% provide assistance to patrons seeking e-government services 90% of libraries offer formal or informal technology training
ECONOMIC IMPACT Return on Investment (ROI), i.e. Florida study found every $1 spent created $6.40 in value. Small biz development: access to business databases & resources for business plans Workforce development: ESL, computer literacy Proximity to library = $$. Users that visit the library report patronizing nearby businesses for other errands.
WAIT …THERE’S MORE! The great information equalizer: anyone can use the library Democracy requires an informed citizenry Lifelong learning: collections & programs for preschoolers to centenarians Services to new populations
….. AND MORE!Libraries are part of the social safety net when a community is struggling economicallyDefend privacyCivic engagementA Third Place
CORE VALUES OF LIBRARIANSHIP Access Confidentiality/Privacy Democracy Diversity Education and Lifelong Learning Intellectual Freedom Preservation The Public Good Professionalism Service Social Responsibility
ADVOCATE Build coalitions with your local library Spread the word – libraries matter: write somebody/something! Decision makers Letters to the editor Social media. #libraries @RahmEmanuel Join Friends of the Library or (ALA members) Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations (ALTAFF)
FOR MORE INFO ALTAFF: www.ala.org/altaff/ ALA Advocacy www.ala.org/advocacy/ SaveLibraries.org ALA tracks Save the Library campaigns www.ala.org/offices/cro/getinvolved/saveyour libraries
CONTACT Jessica Storrs, Research Librarian firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @afscmelibraries www.afscme.org/library Slides available at
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