Tag Archives: branch closings

get up, stand up

This week I attended the ne plus ultra of librarianship on the local level: the Pennsylvania Library Association Conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I got to:

a) Meet, hug and fawn over my favorite author Jennifer Weiner (I asked her to inscribe my book, “To Bonnie, my best friend”)
b) Win an iPod, even though I told the vendors repeatedly that I don’t know how to use the one I have (don’t judge me)
c) Be surrounded by the greatest collection of sensible shoes the world has seen since the 1876 American Library Association Conference in Philadelphia
d) Fuss over the Encore vendors and declare my undying affection for Encore
e) Take photos of important colleagues posing à la America’s Next Top Model on the front steps of the Capitol building

At the conference, I attended sessions on effective organizational communication within libraries, marketing library programs, awesome/useful web tools, creating effective partnerships with other organizations, and so on. One experience especially made an impression, and that was visiting the capitol building. We met with Representative Steve Samuelson, who is a great advocate for libraries in our state. He gave us advice for meeting with elected officials that I would like to pass on to you:

• Get lawmakers on your side. Invite them to the library and share with them the important services your library provides to the community.
• Tell your lawmaker what they are doing right–and wrong.
• Probe them—find out where they stand on the issue of libraries—don’t let them off the hook. This can sometimes be surmised with a handshake: “So we have your support for libraries?” Then send a thank you note thanking them for their support.
• It’s not inappropriate to convey our disappointment about how they have voted. They need to know how their constituents feel and how their actions affect libraries and communities.
• The Pennsylvania Senate voted THREE TIMES to pass a budget that cut library funding by 51%. Because of your letters, in the last three weeks before the budget passed, the cut decreased from 51% to 34% to 21%! Because of your letters, the senators compromised. They listened to YOU.
• Pennsylvania makes $79 million annually in taxes from the sale of books and magazines. If that money were earmarked for public library funding, our beloved libraries wouldn’t be on the chopping block year in and year out when the officials convene annually to pass the state’s budget.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is slated to close several communities’ cherished libraries and lay off many treasured librarians and library staff that change lives every day. Don’t let this happen. Put pressure on our mayor, the mayoral and gubernatorial candidates, as well as our city and state’s elected officials. They decide how your tax dollars are spent.

Don’t let them off the hook. Our libraries are in their hands.

–Bonnie

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The library is more important than you.

photo by flickr user jennandjon

photo by flickr user jennandjon

The library is more important than you. The library is more important than its librarians. The library is more important than the materials on its shelves, screens, and speakers. The library is more important than the buildings that house those materials. The library is more important than its director. The library is more important than the newspaper, the TV and radio stations, and all of their reporters. The library is more important than the mayor, city council, congresspersons, the governor, and every candidate for those offices. The library is more important than the state budget and the rest of its funding sources. The library is more important than Andrew Carnegie.

The library is more important, because its potential for change and growth extends beyond you, to your family, your neighbors, and your community.  The library is not just a symbol or a luxury. It is a cornerstone for an informed society to build its future. Anyone can use the library’s resources to become the next librarian, director, mayor, reporter, congressperson, governor, anything. The library is open to anyone to educate herself and her children without agenda or bias, to entertain himself with the media of his choice, to find employment, to research and read and listen and write and watch.

In my cover letter to apply for this job, I wrote, “Libraries, as a free source of unrestricted public education, are a vital part of our communities.”  Now that I work here, I know that to be true. It says right above the door: Free to the People. The library is not more important than the people. Who are the People?  That’s you.

A librarian I work with said, “Good questions are more important than answers.” A good question has the ability to stir in us a force as powerful as hunger. So ask, Pittsburgh. Make demands.  Tell the director.  Tell the papers.  Tell the mayor.  Tell the city, county and state representatives how you feel about branches closing in your neighborhood and your neighbors’ neighborhoods, what you think about library funding, how you feel about losing library workers to assist you, access to information, and hours of operation in which to access it.

And then ask yourself.  Beyond just fighting to maintain the status quo, what do you want from the library?  What does the best library you can imagine look like?

Are buildings open 8 am to 10 pm?  Do shelves stock the newest, most popular and obscure titles?  Do computers whirr and flash with the most up-to-date information, just waiting for you to hit enter?

Do Children’s Departments abound with storytimes and creative play?  Do Teen spaces overflow with engaged, excited young people?  Do event calendars list informative, cultural and educational, thought-provoking programs for everyone?

Do reference departments include the most useful resources to help you accomplish your goals?  Do desks staff energetic employees, motivated and enabled to connect you with what you seek?  Do employees have the means to pursue the latest technologies and methods to assist your search?  Do you come here to find employment, relax, and study?  Is this the place you visit to feel safe, informed, and inspired?

Do patrons feel ownership of this organization?  Are they vocal? Do they contribute their ideas and resources to supporting it?  Do they encourage their government to endorse the institution they value so much?

Is your ideal library a humming center in a vibrant community of empowered, engaged, autonomous citizens?  What has to happen for all of this to come true?  What is your part?

The library is more important than this crisis.  The library is as important as you make it.  All of this is possible.  All of this is yours for the asking.

 –Renée

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