Libraries: Budget Cut Casualties

Budgets reflect priorities. As a nation we often state that our priorities begin and end with the health, safety and well-being of citizens, especially our children as they are represent the future of the country. Education is part of ensuring well-being, and a well-educated populace enables the nation to compete globally among developing countries that are rapidly advancing their social agendas that are supported, in large part, by their technological developments. If we are to keep pace or move ahead of others doesn’t it behoove us to provide the means by which we can gather as much knowledge as possible?

One of the many casualties of an economic recession and the politically-made fiscal disaster – better known as sequestration – is the public library system.

The nation’s public libraries have long been under budget attack; in some cases they are not only being underfunded, but they’re being sold to private developers — often with no input from the community residents whose lives are directly impacted by the loss of the institutions. At the very least, shouldn’t our public officials should cease sales of libraries until funding is restored.

According to the American Libraries Association, following are the key trends detailed in their 2013 State of America’s Libraries Report:

  • Changes in technology and social networking continue at a dizzying pace, and libraries maintain their role as technology leaders — not in being first adopters, but in being early users of effective technologies.
  • Academic librarians are helping students learn how to analyze information and apply it to new contexts, reflect on what they know, identify what they still need to learn and sort through contradictory arguments.
  • Despite the anemic economy, library construction continued apace in 2012, concrete evidence that libraries still bring solid economic dividends to the communities they serve. The trend toward renovation, as opposed to new construction, was particularly striking.
New York Public Library

New York Public Library

Libraries provide a wealth of information. Despite the digital age providing us with a variety of ways to unlock the door to knowledge, libraries are no less necessary. Most major publishers offer e-books and, just yesterday, an announcement was made by  Simon and Schuster that they will offer e-books to libraries in an effort to bring more electronically based materials to readers who prefer to use their gadgets rather than books, which some perceive as ‘old-fashioned’. Simon & Schuster had been the last of the “Big Six” publishers to keep its entire e-catalog off-limits to libraries as book publishers expressed concern that free library downloads could lead to lost sales.

The problem has been resolved through a revenue-sharing agreement so that begs a question: If the big publishers can find a way to work with libraries — and if they realise the importance of libraries for the communities and even their own businesses  – then why can’t government?

Times are  tough and governments are being forced to make harsh economic decisions with limited resources every day, but when one looks at the scope of activities provided by libraries it becomes that much more difficult to justify deliberately starving libraries of funds. Usage of library resources has been increasing. The increase is, in part, due to the effects of the recession in which families learned that wide-ranging activities such as  after school reading clubs, tax preparation assistance, lecturers and even movie ‘rentals’ are available at many local and central branches. Despite the increase in activity many libraries are experiencing reduced hours and far fewer librarians and support staff to support the operations. When a city sees fit to sell off libraries, demolish research stacks and sell off its libraries it gives the strong appearance that books have turned into an unnecessary and inconvenient expense.

That spells out a bleak future — especially if cities intend to be world-class destinations that are able to compete globally.