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For my part of the “Social Media and Advocacy” presentation that I did at ALA annual about two weeks ago, that was the question I posed to the attendees. During the train ride down on that Friday, I had decided to change my original talk. The compromise for the New Jersey state budget had just been announced earlier in the week and the implications of funding restoration lines were just being determined. The night before I left for the conference, I felt the emotional tension of months of pushing, writing, and advocating resolve itself in the course of a few hours. Having been without word of news or developments from anyone in the know, it had been a rough time wondering what was working, what didn’t, and what was left to be done.
I will say now, upon further reflection, I am disappointed that more funding was not restored. I’d like be happy about the restorations that were made and the programs that were saved but, quite frankly, I’m not. I don’t believe it was from a lack of effort. However, if the library advocacy campaign was the second most contacts that legislators received during the budget negotiations, and the library funding went from 74% to 43%, New Jersey libraries still have a very serious problem. It represents a ton of further education that will need to be accomplished to reach legislators and the general public as to the importance of library funding.
As I sat on the train as it lumbered down the track towards our nation’s capital, my original talk felt a bit short of the mark. I didn’t want people to leave the talk with a list of sites; I wanted them to leave with a fire in their belly. While the talk I gave was not as polished (and at parts, I struggled a bit to make for smoother transitions between points), I was satisfied that I was able to get my point across.
When it comes to library funding, the boiling point is the moment at which library cuts are no longer accepted and a call to action is demanded. In other words, how much tolerance do you have for library cuts? How much of a reduction of materials, services, and hours are you willing to accept on behalf of the communities that you serve? In people’s hearts, I’m sure the answer is none; but when it comes to the reality, my non-scientific observations of reactions to library funding cuts would indicate that this pushback point exists at a much higher levels (or sometimes only if the existence of the library is threatened). This is something that needs to change.
Cuts to library funding need to be seen in a different light: as an attack upon the institution and what it represents. Some might find this imagery as a bit overblown, but one cannot ignore that the denial of resources reduces the effectiveness of the library and its ability to serve its community. It is marginalizing the work by librarians and staff everyday on behalf of their patrons; it is limiting the ways in which the library can act effectively to provide materials and services to any who seek it.
This is a call to action. This is a statement that says, “Yes, you can and should resist any funding cuts.” That such resistance is productive and that you should fight for every dime for your library. It’s not simply that you are depending on it, it’s your patrons and your community that are the benefactors here. Any cut, however small, impacts the performance of the library. Librarians must become cut intolerant and continue to expand the actions and steps for securing funding in the future.
Lower your boiling point.
(While this may pose as an unreasonable position for political realities, I don’t think being reasonable under these same conditions has been serving the library community very well either. -A)