Winning the Budget Wars: Let a Smile Be Your Secret Weapon
Manley, Will, American Libraries
Library publications and blogs are filled with two types of articles these days: horror stories and fantasies.
First, the horror stories. These are the news reports of budget cuts, most of which are in fact quite horrible. Academic Library X is getting its budget cut by 30%; School District Y is bring all of its credentialed librarians; and Public Library Z is closing seven of its 10 branch libraries. There's a budget war out there, and we're not winning.
That's where the fantasies come in. Any number of experts indulge us in fairy tales about how we can start winning the budget wars. Take your pick:
* We need to do a better job of raising public awareness of the value of libraries.
* We need to do a better job of using Twitter and Facebook to tell everyone how important we are
* We need to deploy technological resources in more cost-effective ways.
* We need to develop new and creative streams of revenue.
* We need to think outside the box. We need to change paradigms.
All are fantasies.
Publicly financed libraries in schools, cities, and universities are basically supported through some combination of sales tax, property tax, and state income tax. Welcome to the triple whammy of declining retail sales, diminishing real estate values, and rising unemployment. You can't get blood out of a rock. I know this sounds defeatist and pessimistic and it's not politically correct, but it is what it is. Wishing will not make it so.
So, what can we do?
1) Don't trash elected officials. Believe it or not, the vast majority of politicians love libraries. Why? Simple. They love libraries because voters do.
2) When the cuts begin and your city, school district, or university starts holding public hearings so that the budget-cutting process will be "transparent," make sure you get your supporters out in droves to speak on behalf of the library even if you know it won't do any good. …