Magazine article American Libraries

Top 10 Library Stories of 2008: The Financial Crisis of 2008 Hit Late in the Year, and Its Ramifications Have Yet to Be Understood. as President Bush Prepares to Leave Office and Barack Obama Readies to Become the First African-American President, Speculation Grows over How the Bailout of Failing Financial Institutions at Taxpayer Expenses Will Take Its Toll on Libraries and Education

Magazine article American Libraries

Top 10 Library Stories of 2008: The Financial Crisis of 2008 Hit Late in the Year, and Its Ramifications Have Yet to Be Understood. as President Bush Prepares to Leave Office and Barack Obama Readies to Become the First African-American President, Speculation Grows over How the Bailout of Failing Financial Institutions at Taxpayer Expenses Will Take Its Toll on Libraries and Education

Article excerpt

During the year's brighter beginnings, New York Public Library announced a five-year, $1-billion expansion March 11 with the goal of doubling its number of users. It was a savvy move, since circulation statistics have soared nationwide in direct proportion to the falling economy. In August, the mayor of Washington, D.C., quickly found $2 million to reverse a shortfall that would have forced cuts in library hours.

But threats to library funding also regularly reared their ugly heads, as they do every year. In January New Jersey librarians fought tax-cap legislation that threatened to limit property tax increases to 4%. By March, the mayor of Memphis, Tennessee, was announcing that the city would close five branches (a decision that was evenly everturned). BY April, Mesa, Arizona, was on the verge of eliminating all 87 of its school library media specialists (it's underway), and in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the mayor threatened to permanently shutter the city's branches (they got a reprieve in August).

But it wasn't until September that economic instability hit hard, and American Libraries reported that the quest for library funding was likely to be cluttered and frenzied for the foreseeable future. Finances became the top library story of the year, just as it became the top story for the rest of the nation.

Funding aside, the headlines that the hit hardest in these editorial offices were related to many of the profession's perennial themes: censorship, privacy, advocacy and public awareness, and access to information in good times and in bad.

1 SEEKING SHELTER FROM THE GATHERING STORM

Fiscal times continued to be tough for libraries in 2008, just as they before, and the year before, and the economic forecast for the next 18 months is overcast at best, in light of depressed sales-tax and properly-tax receipts--the bread and butter of most library budgets. What made matters worse was the financial tsunami that hit Wall Street in September, which swept away many a prospect for private support and planned giving for the time being, and cut deep into institutional endowments.

"Municipalities always make cuts across the board in order to be even-handed and in my option that's wrong because library budgets are so small relative to other," Carnegie Corporation President and CEO vartan Gregorian told American Libraries.

Such miscalculations were also being made at the state level: Learning little from the fiscal struggles of tax-capped California and Massachusetts, Florida voters amended the state constitution in January to allow for property-tax rollbacks and exemptions of $9.3 billion over the next five years, triggering library retrenchment.

"This is no time to cut much-needed support, reduce hours, or close library doors," declared American Library Association President Jim Retting as the Association issued a call to congressional leaders for $100 million in stimulus funding to libraries.

People need to hear that "the public gets what it puts in," Gregorian asserted, and that it is common sense to "give something back to the library so it can serve you."

2 POLITICS, ACCESS, & THE PRESIDENCY

In a stand for open access, Harvard University's arts and sciences faculty voted unanimously in February to publish their scholarly articles online, making them available to the public for free. But in August, a different access issue came to the fore when conservative political writer Stanley Kurtz accused the University of Illinois at Chicago of blocking him from documents that might have portrayed presidential candidate Barack Obama in a bad light. A brief melee ensued, with Kurtz crying cover-up and UIC dutifully determining its authority to grant public access to the donated material related to former radical activist William Ayers. But access was granted in due course, and the controversy over the papers fizzled.

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