Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin

The BostonNOW website reports on the dilemma faced by Massachusetts libraries. Following cuts in state revenue, local municipalities need to pass a referendum to override fiscal restrictions in order to maintain library service. These referenda have failed in 60% of communities, causing many libraries to severely cut back services and others to close. In the article "Losing our borrowing privileges", BostonNOW reports:

Municipal libraries fall victim to municipal budget woes across the state because flat revenues and rising health care and energy costs force cities and towns to choose between asking voters to raise taxes or cutting services like public libraries.
In this respect, Massachusetts is not so different from Wisconsin nor (your state's name here). The Stoneham Sun reports:
...in Northbridge the public library has lost hours of operation, members of its staff, and its affiliation with the state public library system: no children’s story time, no summer reading program, no internet access, and no way to borrow books from other public libraries. The Saugus Public Library will close its doors this week. The building will be shuttered by the end of June. Medway’s library will suffer the same fate as Northbridge...
Ah, well, too bad for them. But as that great philosopher, Frank Zappa, taught us:

It can't happen here
It can't happen here
I'm telling you, my dear
That it can't happen here...

Who could imagine...

It can't happen here
It can't happen here
Everybody's safe and it can't happen here
Except, of course, it can happen here. All your well-earned politesse and good management can't stop it, but maybe we can soften the blow. How? I'm still trying to learn, but can think of a few ways:
  1. Make sure our services are well-aligned to the needs of the community we serve and that the community knows it. That means we keep dancing on the "give em what they want" vs. "give what they need" boundary line. Listen. Talk. Be valuable and seen as valuable.
  2. Local communities should be invested in the library that they will ultimately need to support. Being overly reliant on state funds or other outside funding -- that could dry up due to forces beyond control -- leave locals holding a big bag.
  3. Nevertheless we need to cultivate multiple revenue streams -- diversify our funding & support. We need local support, but we also need endowment funds, friends groups, volunteers, equitable reimbursements for service provided outside our funding area, and as many available grants as reasonably relevant.
  4. And we can't forget to keep working with our professional associations at the regional & state level, to make sure states don't clobber municipalities in general and local libraries in particular, and to sustain library collaborations. We need to energizie trustees & friends to be involved as well.
It makes one ask: would this community pass a referendum for a major increase in support, or would it let the library close? If communities get the libraries they deserve, what does my town deserve? What determines a town deserving a library? a good library? an excellent library?

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