The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0888-045X.htmBL RUNNING ON EMPTY24,4 Pleasing all at the expense of many218 Anthony McMullen Baron-Forness Library, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro,Received 1 October 2011Accepted 3 October 2011 Pennsylvania, USA Abstract Purpose – This article’s aim is to provide insights into issues encountered in maintaining library technologies on a limited budget and with limited personnel. Design/methodology/approach – The article uses real world experiences to provide commentary on decision-making practices as they relate to discontinuing library services under increasingly tight budget constraints. Findings – Librarians’ strong service ethic is both a beneﬁt and a detriment. In their efforts to serve all, they often stretch thin the human, ﬁnancial, and temporal resources, thereby adversely affecting the most valuable services. Originality/value – The article uses real-world examples to provide critical commentary on the decision-making process as it relates to continuing / discontinuing library services and resources. Keywords Library budgets, Library services, Service reductions, Decision making, United States of America, Libraries, Resource allocation Paper type Viewpoint “Does the library have a fax machine?” asked a student of one of my colleagues at the reference desk. I watch intently as my colleague, a kind and eager-to-help librarian with many years of experience began to answer the question. “Well,” she said, “we do have a fax machine in the library, but it’s not for public use. We used to offer a fax service but no longer have the staff or the money to support it.” The student responded with a slightly snippy, “I see,” combined with a rather dismissive smirk prior to walking away abruptly as my colleague attempted to explain that the campus bookstore and print shop offer faxing services for $1.00 per page. Never one to displease, my colleague was visibly upset. “What just happened?” she asked. “Did I say something to offend her?” “No,” I said. “You were perfectly courteous and honest. Too honest, in fact. Next time a student asks that question, just tell them we don’t have a fax machine and then explain about the bookstore and print shop. She’ll walk away happy and you won’t take one on the chin” “But that would be lying,” she replied. “Yes, technically it would,” I said, “but it’s okay to be good instead of perfect.”The Bottom Line: Managing Library Letting perfect be the enemy of good is something we seem to do exceedingly well inFinances our profession. When we consider the fax machine incident, we see a student who caresVol. 24 No. 4, 2011pp. 218-220 not whether the library owns a fax machine; her real concern is whether the libraryq Emerald Group Publishing Limited0888-045X owns a fax machine she can use. The fact that our fax machine is for staff use only andDOI 10.1108/08880451111193307 our reasons for abandoning the public fax service are nothing more than extraneous
details. Yet we feel compelled to explain and rationalize in the name of good service. Pleasing allWe are as guilty of this practice in our long range planning as we are in our oneone-to-one dealings with library users. Our fear of displeasing even a single patron isso intense that we do our very best to please all, oftentimes at the expense of many. Weset our sights on the future, ala “Library 2.0”, while simultaneously keeping one footplanted ﬁrmly in the foyer of 1979. Case in point: here in my library, the Technical Services department recently 219completed a project wherein all of our printed indices were reclassiﬁed and assignedLibrary of Congress call numbers as opposed to the former practice of shelving themalphabetically by title. This may have been a useful project at one time, but in an era ofshrinking budgets and staff it is misplaced effort. While the volumes are now clean andarranged properly and perfectly with their shiny new labels a uniform one inch abovethe bottom of the spine, they sit unused, collecting new dust, just as they did when theywere shelved alphabetically and covered with old dust. Rather than discussing themerits of bringing a bygone collection in line with standard cataloging practices, theconversation we should have had was one that centered on whether we even need theprinted indices at all anymore. But the reality is that this conversation will be fruitlessas long as there are a handful of people who choose to use one or two volumes everyfew years despite the fact that most are available electronically. We must also consider our penchant for offering the same content in multipleformats. Take for example my library’s recent acquisition of the Proquest DigitalMicroﬁlm platform on which we receive the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, andWashington Post. These online editions are exact images of the printed pages,accessible to our entire community whether they are here in the library, across campusin their ofﬁce, or halfway around the world working on a project for their online course.Yet we easily come up with three or four reasons to continue the microﬁlmsubscriptions of the same titles, each of which costs several thousand dollars. “What ifthe internet goes down?” “What if there’s a power outage?” “What happens if a studentwants to use the newspaper and all the lab computers are in use?” “What about thelocal high school students and townspeople who use the library? They cannot accessthe network! How will they use the newspapers without internet access?” While all ofthese questions have some degree of merit, all of them can also be applied to virtuallyany electronic resource to which we subscribe. But for whatever reason, these sorts ofhypothetical questions seem to trump both common and ﬁscal sense. We allow theexception to become the rule. We happily spend thousands to avoid inconveniencing afew, there again at the expense of the many. We are a service-oriented profession, one that is rooted in the ideal of every book itsreader, every reader its book. It is a noble ideal and one that still rings true even inthese changing times and in this economic climate. We can proudly display this idealabove the entryways of our institutions, but we must be willing to shed our unhealthyand self-limiting belief that we need to be everything to everybody. Libraries andlibrarians do many things exceptionally well; letting go in order to move forward is notone of these things. It is a wonder we ever managed to discontinue the public faxservice. The fact that we did and are still here doing many things well should serve as arevelation. Let us call it the facsimile epiphany.
BL About the author Anthony McMullen is Systems Librarian at the Baron-Forness Library, Edinboro University of24,4 Pennsylvania, one of the 14 universities comprising the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. Anthony earned his MSLS at Clarion University of Pennsylvania and has been in the library profession for 16 þ years. Anthony McMullen can be contacted at: amcmullen@ edinboro.edu220 To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Or visit our web site for further details: www.emeraldinsight.com/reprints