Friday, August 28, 2009

Ethics for Library Organizations

Gee, this is tough. Karen Schnederman asks what position do I think AALL should take regarding news items such as

Denver Public Library to consider hour cuts, closings
To make up for a budget shortfall of nearly $5 million next year, Denver Public Library officials are considering cutting back service hours, closing branches, and even selling buildings. The city of Denver is expecting a total shortfall of $120 million next year, and all departments have been asked to cut 14% of their budgets. For the public library, which gets 89% of its revenue from the city’s general fund, that translates to a reduction of $4.5 million, on top of cuts from previous years. In 2003 the library system had to take a 7% cut, or $3.5 million....
Rocky Mountain (Colo.) Independent, Aug. 20
If you go to ALA, you can see that they have some very strong statements about public libraries and the need for them growing as the economy tanks. They have a lot of material on their website. People do use the public library more as the economy gets worse.

I don't know how much obligation AALL has to underwrite material like that, but I should think that we ought to at least regret decisions like this and add our voices to the ALA's voice in support of public libraries. I think we do, in lobbying at the federal level, sign on with ALA on issues.

But budget cutting is a very tough issue. In Massachusetts, we recently went through a round where all the various agencies had to take hard cuts. And then the zoo pulled a stunt where they went to the media with a statement that if they had to cut their budget as requested, it would mean euthanizing all the animals! This turned out to be WRONG, and MISLEADING. In fact, mixed in the euthanasia statement from the Zoo New England spokesperson, you can see a second statement from a spokesman for Franklin Park Zoo, that a zoo instead would find homes for the animals at other zoos or parks, if they were not able to care for the animals.

What would happen is that the zookeepers would lose their jobs or take pay cuts, just like the people at all the other agencies. And they would have to cut back on their mission and do with less. Just like lots of other agencies, some with arguably more important missions -- for education, and for care to retarded and disabled people, and which had just as harsh budget cuts. But because the news ran the story about killing the cute zoo animals, hysteria overruled reason here in Boston (and across the country!). The governor had to restore a big chunk of the zoo's budget, and that meant cutting deeper into some other agency's budget.

So, you see what I am saying about the public library issue here: Where do you get the money to keep the library open? If you have to rearrange the existing state budget to put more into the library, where are you going to take it from? Without knowing a lot about the budget issues, you don't know who you are hurting to take the extra million dollars or two, or three, and add it back to the public library budget. The best answer is if you get public support to the point where some corporate support, and pennies and nickels from the public to supplement that money from the government. But that's hard in the economy we're in... Maybe it might work.


Schmessers said...

I appreciate your willingness to post this story and ask for feedback.

This issue is personal to me. I am from Cleveland Heights, Ohio and Philadelphia, PA. Both with public library hard hit by our current recession. I am also an avid and long-time library user.

But then, I can see the personal in so many issues.

I leave you with this quote:

"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist; Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me."

I wonder if public libraries are more vulnerable than academic libraries.

Comment Note: Like many things in life, the origins of this quote are unclear. It seems to have first been published in a 1955 book by Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you for bringing the issue forward! This is something that AALL and librarians generally should be concerned about. I am very glad that the AALL Executive Board has at least taken up the issue for discussion. We don't know yet what the outcome will be, but they are discussing the matter, which is wonderful. As a member, I am grateful to the board for being open to member queries! Thank you, Joyce!