My state is currently in the throes of budget discussions; I assume these discussions are going on around the country. Money is tight everywhere, and difficult decisions are being made about what services to cut, and which to keep.
I recently got a message from ALA encouraging me to contact my representative:
The Museum and Library Services Act (MLSA) has moved to the U.S. House of Representatives where it must receive a vote before the end of the calendar year. ALA is asking you to call your representative and urge him or her to press House leadership for a vote on the Senate-passed version of MLSA (S. 3984) and to support the bill.
I’m all for museums and libraries, obviously. But my initial reaction was, “Why us?”
Before you get out the pitchforks, hear me out. When budgets are this lean, something’s got to give. Cutting libraries seems like an easy thing to do; they are, to the minds of many, a “nice to have” rather than a “got to have.” After all, we need the fire department, the police department. The street department is pretty necessary in my neck of the woods, when we have snowfalls that impede movement on a fairly regular basis.
When legislators are facing the need to cut, why not cut the libraries?
Well, there are a number of reasons. When times are hard, the libraries are used more than ever. People look for jobs using library computers. People learn English. People educate themselves and their children.
I believe libraries are essential to a literate and educated society, and that literacy and education are necessary for a society to be healthy, to grow and to thrive. Without access to libraries, the information currently available via the library would be limited to those with the financial wherewithal to purchase access to the information.
Notice I’m talking about access. Libraries aren’t limited to books anymore. Libraries are – and always have been – about access to information. That information is increasingly available online, but much of it is available through subscription. Whether researching using books or online journals, a library is essential.
So what’s my point?
You need to be pounding this information into your representatives on a regular basis. Everyone from the city manager to the mayor to your congressional representatives needs to be hearing from you often, not just when there’s a vote upcoming. They need to be told about all the wonderful services you offer, all the terrific programs that are going on, and all the people that are served. When they hear about cutting library services, their knee-jerk reaction needs to be, “No!”
If you haven’t done this, start now. Go. Talk. Pester. Invite them to coffee. Invite them to visit the library. Encourage them to get involved; read a story for the kids at storytime, give a presentation to adults on whatever. Make the library their friend.