Friday, April 1, 2011

And another one gone, and another one gone

In a sign of the times, Newport Beach is considering closing the city's original library and replacing it with a community center that would offer all the same features — except for the books.

Instead of a reference librarian, patrons would be greeted by a kiosk equipped with video-calling software that would allow them to speak with employees elsewhere. And books — when ordered — would be dropped off at a locker for pickup.
Tomes' time might be up at Newport Beach library
Are we numb to these stories? Locally the town of Greece, NY has announced the perceived necessity to eliminate half of its budget for libraries going into next year. The superintendent of Rochester city schools announced yesterday that his proposed budget eliminates 900 teaching positions.
Aside from the fact that I am in search of a job as a school librarian and enjoy my occasional service as a substitute at the public library, and aside from my role as the son and grandson of teachers and father of students, and aside from the fact that I now work as a technology assistant in a school library and visit our public library regularly with my children, aside from these facts, I am trying to figure out how I really feel about library closures and school program elimination.

In other words, how do these cuts affect citizens and students who may not have the love of books, knowledge, technology, collaboration and academic discussion, that I have? How do these cuts affect my neighbors who do not realize the opportunity they are passing up to read books and magazines and use computers for free?

Will it matter to them that there are 30 students or more in a class instead of 25. Will it matter that elementary students do not have stand-alone art or music lessons or a chance to enjoy reading without pressure in the library? Will it matter to them that elective classes at the secondary level are shaved to the bare minimum or eliminated. Will the lack of sports and club activities and related activity buses cause them frustration?

I believe in America and the ideals our country was founded upon. I believe that American pride, ingenuity, influence and strength to affect change still exists. I believe, however, that it can only be disturbed as we feel great pain as a national (or at least regional or local) community. I believe that we have within us the power to reverse this economic and social landslide but not unless the pain becomes unbearable and the urge to ease the pain unavoidable.

So, have we become numb to stories of cuts and eliminations of programs and facilities? I guess I am not sure. Are we sheep who will follow our leaders wherever they take us and agree to whatever cuts they impose? Are we, as a population, comfortable with our leaders and in agreement with most of the decisions they make? Or do we have the fortitude to cause our leaders to alter decisions to our will and to choose leaders who support our will?

Past attempts to change the traditional library model have not always worked out.

In 2008, Long Beach considered turning its main library into a depot of sorts that would fill book orders for neighborhood branch libraries. But residents rallied to save the stacks and the proposal was shelved.
In 2008 these citizens noticed, disagreed, and prevailed. What happens now?

What happens in Long Beach California? What happens in Greece, NY? What happens in the city of Rochester? What happens in cities and communities coast to coast to our schools and our libraries, and tangentially speaking, our healthcare and our infrastructure and our economy and society as a whole?

In a special, off-season, election to choose a new mayor for the city of Rochester, 26% of eligible voters showed up at the polls yesterday. This was up from 20% in 2009 but down from almost 40% in a hotly contested 2005 election. Fifty six percent of eligible voters participated in our last national election, the highest in any election since 1968. As the country has simmered during this presidency, 40.9% of voters turned out to shake up our legislative branches (highest off-year turn-out since 1970).

Do these statistics matter? I guess I can only answer, "I hope so."

Will the voters focus on the cuts to education and to library services? What is the future of education and of library service in our country in the near and long-term future? Sadly it is not the teachers or the librarians who will answer that question. It is our neighbors, our students, parents and patrons, and the large unknown masses who have forgotten or who never understood the value of programs, services and education that we offer.

The time to save your school or your library, your teacher or your librarian, or your job if you are in the profession is NOT after cuts have been announced or are being discussed. The time is NOW! Usage statistics, evidence of success, patron and student growth and satisfaction with services and teaching, and community support in advance of budget discussions are critical to continued funding. Converting a non-library user every day and developing strategies to remain relevant in our communities and schools into the 21st century should be among our many goals.

I apologize for blending the lines between school and library budgets in this discussion and know the answers and even the questions are not the same for each and yet they do share many commonalities. I know of no consolidated resource that identifies cuts to education, but want to share and ask all lovers of libraries to help keep your town off of these maps.

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