Libraries and the Economy

I’ve been reading here and there about libraries feeling the pinch in the current economy.  And what I’m going to say is going to be controversial.  If a public library is losing its funding, the librarian and library board probably had a role in that.

Now, bear with me here.

Those of us that have worked in public libraries know that the tougher the economic times, the busier the library becomes.  People switch to borrowing books and DVDs instead of buying them.  Parents take their children to the library for recreation.  Those that are unemployed or facing unemployment come to use the computers and apply for jobs, update resumes, or search to see what opportunities might be available.

Meanwhile, back at the City Manager’s office, the conversation is turning to how the city can save money, since their budget is shrinking.  In more cities than not, the library ends up being a target.  After all, we can’t cut the police and fire departments, right?  And garbage pickup?  Roads?


The local government officials need to be educated as to the value and service that their public library provides, and we’re the ones that need to do the educating.  Frankly, most people really don’t know what a modern public library does.  (See: We’re Really Bad at Marketing, Parts 1-1,354.)  And so when push comes to shove, since we haven’t told them how valuable we are and made the case for our existence, it’s all too easy to cut us.

If you haven’t had coffee with your city administrator to talk about how incredibly busy you are right now, you need to take the time to do this.  NOW.  Make the case.  Invite them to come in and see how the citizens of your community are flocking to your library.  Remind them that your library has the only broadband access for many people.  Use a library calculator to let them know how much they get in return for every dollar invested in the library.

You should be having these conversations constantly.  But it’s not too late.  Go now.

For more ideas, stop in at WebJunction for one of their webinars on Libraries in Tough Economic Times.



Filed under Libraries and Librarianship

6 responses to “Libraries and the Economy

  1. Thanks for the mention of the WJ Webinars coming up this month. Also, glad you linked to the Maine library calculator – I saw that a while back but was hunting for it lately without success. Bookmarked now!


  2. Thanks, Kevin. Since I’m so opinionated on the subject, I’ll be joining the webinar on December 12th. : )

  3. Pingback: Libraries and the Economy | Blog posts trends

  4. joespnet

    Great points, Mary Beth,

    FYI — Another take on the ROI calculator concept was developed by North Suburban Library System in Illinois.

  5. Hi Mary Beth,

    Great points! I had not thought of the city officials as the ones who should use the calculator.

    I adapted a calculator for our library and then turned it into a Google Gadget so other libraries can install it with just a short bit of code without having to mess with all the javascript and form stuff. Check it out:


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