Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Library is Dying


I haven’t posted much here lately about libraries (or much of anything else, to be honest), but some major things have been happening due to the city’s budget being a black hole and services being chopped left and right. Though I’ve stayed fairly optimistic about the matter, I’ve heard that things have gotten to the point that a substantial number of full-time employees are going to get the axe, mainly due to their benefits and higher salaries. If my understanding of matters is correct, that means that part-timers such as myself will be able to keep our jobs, but will more than likely have to take on more responsibilities as resources continue to be stretched thin.

I have tried to be realistic about this instead of bitching about how unfair it is and how the city doesn’t care about the library. If the city doesn’t have money, then there’s really not a whole lot that can be done. At one point the library was a hair away from being outsourced to a private company, which would have meant everyone re-applying for their jobs, more than likely with massive pay cuts. As a city library, there was also the possibility of it being incorporated into the county system, which would definitely have meant people having to take pay cuts (I worked for the county at one point and know how much they pay). That was avoided as well, but the solution we ended up with, the library still being operated by the city but with huge numbers of people losing their jobs, is not really that much better than the other two options. Basically the library had their choice of three terrible options, and either one that they would have picked would have screwed people over.

This may have been avoided, though, if people either knew about it or cared. As employees we were told to keep our mouths shut, since telling patrons about our situation would have been “unethical” and grounds for termination. Thus, the people who in all likelihood could have prevented the library’s budget from getting hacked to shreds, the patrons, were left in the dark about it all, while the library went understaffed and staff members became overworked in the rare occasions that they were called in. They were left to wonder why service at the library got so bad so fast, why desk staff hardly ever got up to help them out, why they were told to do everything themselves, and why policy changes were never followed consistently by staff.

I have not worked at the library for over a month now. Other staff members have had to take on second jobs because they’re not getting the income they need to pay the bills. I even heard a rumor that my boss, the head of the current library that I work at, has also put in applications at other libraries. At my previous branch, we were frequently under the threat of libraries being closed due to budget issues, but at the last minute people like the Friends of the Library would swoop in and save the day. Right now, that’s not something likely to happen.

The people who know me personally know the situation I’m talking about. Anyone else who has come here, either from an outside link or from reading my book, is just as oblivious about my library as our patrons are. I’m writing this not to try to convince people to save my library, but to let people know that libraries as expendable now, and likely to lose funding when a crisis hits. If you use your library or care about libraries, support them. Check out some books, make some donations. With Netflix jacking up their prices, you can always find good new and old movies at your library, typically for free. If you like your local library, tell people and encourage them to go. Let your representatives know that the library is important to you and not easily disposed of. There are real people that will be affected by this, from my friends losing their jobs, to low budget and homeless patrons losing the chance to look for work via our internet service or just escape from reality for a few hours by reading a book for free, not to mention the kids who will no longer have a storytime program to go to. My library may be falling apart, but that doesn’t mean that yours has to as well.

1 comment:

Scott Douglas said...

Actually you won't take on more responsibilities...clerks will. As far as I know, the clerks--some just nearly out of high school--will be in charge of breaking up fights, answering reference questions, complaints, and everything else that should be left to someone with experience.