In its excellent 2008 report, From Awareness to Funding, the OCLC cites 2005 data that more than a third of U.S. public libraries are operating with level or declining budgets and “are being forced to reduce staff, cut hours and reduce community services.” Our town has seen this, with cuts to its library budget 4 out of the last 5 years amidst double-digit increases for nearly every other town department over the same period.
The industry has been hard at work and their communications have grown more sophisticated over the past five years, however “the majority of library campaigns have been aimed at promoting library services and driving library use, not increasing library funding.”1 Here again, our town fit the pattern. During the past five years, I do not recall our library staff publicly calling attention to the budget cuts or asking library super supporters to mount an advocacy campaign.
This doesn’t suprise me, for I’ve observed that:
- The library ethos is oriented more toward providing help than asking for it.
- Librarians are resourceful problem-solvers; it makes sense that their response to fiscal challenge would focus inward on maximizing services with shrinking budgets more than outward on lobbying for funds.
- Libraries are gendered workplaces. At every library I’ve known, the staff, Friends and volunteers have been predominantly female—and as Babcock & Laschever have documented, women don’t ask.
Overcoming hardship can be transformative. Let’s hope a by-product of the public funding crisis will be a greater inclination toward advocacy among librarians and industry groups. This will help garner much needed financial resources in the short term, and longer term will help promote the values so many of us hold dear.