Since ALA Midwinter is right in our backyard this year, I’ve been attending sessions and exploring the exhibits for the past few days. There’s a lot of talk going around about the economy, budgets and cost saving measures. As usual, libraries are dealing with this awful fiscal climate in interesting ways. Open source solutions, outsourcing, and advocacy are some of the measures librarians are using to help stretch or increase their beleaguered budgets. We’re realizing that underperforming branches need to prove their worth, and there have been some closures. But I’ve also heard of creative increases in service; library kiosks during concert performances and other events, roving librarians approaching people in the stacks and economic gardening programs marketed to local small businesses. Cross training between departments has relieved some of the pressure on front line folks, and it gives TS and circulation staff the chance to experience different, and sometimes more rewarding, aspects of the profession. Consolidation of service points within the library also eases staffing needs. Crafty librarians who know that every local bank branch and chain store has money to spend on the community are hitting them up for sponsorships.
Staff attrition was helping reduce costs, but the current financial crisis is stemming the trickle of early retirements and many libraries are worried that hiring freezes will prevent them from filling those vacancies. One library is beating the system and advancing the profession by using money saved from those salaries to hire teens to fill shelving positions and help with computers. This shows teens how exciting and rewarding our profession is and attracts more young people into the library, since it’s a space they are helping to create. I’ve even run into some vendors who seem to realize that we are at our limit and are offering free or inexpensive software or services for patron computer reservations, cataloging and cataloging records as an incentive to get us to try their products. As you can see, despite the gloomy times, there are some bright ideas being implemented.