How to Start a Public Library
On a cold rainy Wednesday morning, I went to work at my branch. The day after the commissioners meeting, I had to go to work. There is, at the time of this entry, another managers meeting to go over the budget for the new fiscal year. This afternoon, there will be a meeting with the staff about said budget. The results from yesterday put this library system on the chopping block as the millage was voted as a flat rate. There are no reserves to bolster the budget and the no increase in millage means that the fumes we were on are now depleted. The proposed closures would mean 22 libraries would be closed down unless from now until October funds are diverted to us.
I as a voter understand the toxic nature of the words “tax increase”. The recession has affected not just some but a great deal of people for the past several years. My family and I are still in recovery mode and just maintaining the minimums. With the closures, I am certain not to have a job and worse, my wife could also not have a job. I am not calling myself Henny Penny and that the sky is falling but the reality is, we are facing an even more obstacle to having financial security and stability. I am not asking to be paid more for what I do but I also don’t want to be paid less for what I do. I love what I do but I have to face the immediate future to do what I love somewhere else.
As I’ve mentioned before, I thought about having an independent library to be… well, um… independent. Like NPR, the library would have to get its support from the public as well as from businesses. The reality is this would be an uphill challenge and I’m not sure I’m up for the challenge. I have a family to support and raise and to boot such ventures are risky. However, during the last SEFLIN conference, as always, I was inspired.
Jamie LaRue has been the director of the Douglas County Libraries since 1990. He had talked about the problems he was having at a branch whereby a return book would take four days to be put back on the shelf. Despite having five staffers at circulation and five in the back, it still took four days to get to the shelf. The answer to this problem was RFID (Radio Frequency identification). They invested in this technology and had a positive cascading effect. There was no longer the need for a circulation desk; the staff was free to roam the floor to help patrons. The reference desk was no longer staffed by professional librarians as they went out into the community to give service. The list goes on and on but what happened was the reduction in overhead. The major cost for any business is people. This library wound up saving more money as time passed because the reduction in staff was done through attrition. Those position would not be filled but those who stayed got an increase in salary. At one point, my library system was planning on doing the same but the initial or overall cost was too high. While I agree with my library system, the cost down the road is the current nightmare that I, my wife and colleagues are facing. If were able to have shortened our operations, we would not have had to do this high number of closures and layoffs. At least that is my thinking.
Where to go from here? Hey, let us open up a library.
One of my colleagues sent me a link to an article dated back in 2000. While the information a bit older, it is still relevant to the times today. The author talked about having libraries moving away from traditional forms of funding i.e. the government. Yes, to open up a library there will have to be sponsors for financial support. This sounds like the demise of the free aspect of public libraries but rather this is the new course of action libraries need to take to stay alive. When you get a chance, click here to read this interesting article.
Despite all this, I need to consider my options first.