The Voice Reporter
Anyone can be a Library Champion
By Ove Overmyer
President, CSEA City of Rochester Library Workers Local 828 Unit 7420
New York State-- For over a century, libraries have responded to what our patrons have been asking from us with even greater intensity with less financial resources since the current recession started: help with computer skills, providing tools for life-long learning, assisting folks who apply for unemployment insurance, helping citizens find a job, and just about everything else under the sun.
Here is a brief recap of New York State library funding: From 1998 to 2006, libraries and library systems received no state funding increases, while other educational institutions received generous attention. When economic conditions worsened, libraries were then the first to receive cuts. Library Aid has been cut six times in the last three years, from $102 million in 2008 to $79 million in 2011 which translates to a 23 percent reduction. In contrast, state funding for School Aid dropped by only 2% during the same period.
One would think that library leaders could easily engage our local elected delegation with a sound argument for properly funding our libraries and library systems—especially when we share common issues of importance. Sadly, we all have experience with elected officials who do not put the library in their top-ten list of critical issues. Conversely, most legislators believe that economic and workforce development is a major priority for a healthy economy but have no clue that functioning libraries are a necessary part of that formula.
Let’s be clear here— libraries have been leading the way providing the support necessary for any economic recovery to happen. For many new legislators and business leaders, when this revelation is finally realized, it was like a light bulb when off over their head. Unfortunately and to this day, too many lawmakers still don’t get it and see libraries as just dusty depositories for books—and it is every citizen’s job to make them refocus this 19th century perspective.
Anyone can be a Library Champion
Anyone who gives a damn about libraries should be actively engaged in addressing our elected officials and explain to them what the role libraries have played in improving their quality of life—whether it was simply reading a best–seller, studying for a civil service exam at the library or attending a workshop on improving interview skills.
Library advocates are struck time and time again by how few people actually know what goes on in a school, academic or public library these days and how we operate. Every time we speak to groups about what we do with respect to our economy or preparing a new generation for success, people begin to see libraries in a new light and are astonished at the depth and breadth of resources that are available to every citizen.
We should find as many opportunities as possible to demonstrate to new listeners how involved libraries are in addressing the community’s most pressing issues. We need more civic leaders from other sectors talking about the importance of public libraries too— and that’s why I am asking you to become a library champion today.
Our efforts to lobby the state legislature and governor have ramped up over the past few years. And just like other public entities, we are battling for our piece of the pie. Albeit, a very small piece of pie. To put some perspective on how much New York State budgets for Library Aid, let’s just say that it equals less than one-tenth of one percent. No kidding.
Library advocates have also been thinking about the difference between library users and library supporters. In library circles, we spend a lot of time, as we should, talking about library users, how to identify them, serve them better, communicate more effectively. But as we know from plenty of surveys and data, library use does not necessarily correlate with library funding dollars.
Rather, library supporters believe that the library can be transformative for those who walk through our doors. Increasing support for the library depends on us being active leaders focused on accurately reflecting the reality of library services and products. And therefore, convince others that libraries are truly the best return on investment of public dollars any taxpayer can spend. This-- my library friends, will remain one of our biggest challenges and top priorities for the 21st century.