Will Social Media Activism Reverse the Fortunes of Besieged Libraries?

Article excerpt

Library workers and supporters nationwide are turning to social media to spread the word about proposed funding cuts and recruit advocates. Despite what looks to be a very bleak FY 2011, social media blitzes to stave off cuts for the current fiscal year may have laid some groundwork toward influencing budgetmakers.

In March, the Charlotte (N.C.) Mecklenburg Library was asked to return $2 million to the county. The library board responded by voting to close 12 branches and lay off more than 140 library employees. The public reaction was immediate: An online fund-raising and awareness campaign spread across Facebook and Twitter to plug the budget hole. Although that goal wasn't met (as of mid-April, some $300,000 had been donated by people around the world), trustees rescinded the closures a scant week after okaying them, opting for reduced hours and fewer layoffs.

The swift action was thanks to the library's vibrant online presence; officials tweet up-to-the minute news from trustee meetings using the # cmlibrary hashtag, as well as information on how the community can best advocate for libraries.

Charlotte's Learning and Development Coordinator Lori Reed was also spurred into action. She created savelibraries.org, a clearinghouse of online campaigns to fight cuts to library services. The website also links to advocacy resources from the American Library Association as well as ALA's direct links for contacting Congress, state legislators, and the media. The site has the potential to create a powerful, uniting voice for library advocates: one-stop shopping for new libraries that come under threat.

Despite these efforts, deep cuts remain a possibility. Mecklenburg County officials have asked the library to plan for a 50% reduction in funding for FY2011.

Viral reactions

Facebook groups and advocacy websites opposing cuts also sprang up quickly when Los Angeles and Boston officials eyed branch closures, layoffs, and service-hour reductions. The Florida and New Jersey library associations rallied the library troops virtually as lawmakers sought to slash or eliminate state aid to libraries. Los Angeles library lovers took action as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ended Sunday service April 11, with more cuts in the offing. …