Public Libraries’ Economy Issue

I’m flying to Sioux Falls for PLA’s great Turning the Page training so I finally having a chance to catch up on my professional reading and saw Public Libraries’ “Economy Issue” (July/August 2009).  Since it looks like it won’t be freely available until 2010, do yourself a favor and beg, borrow or buy a copy if you don’t get it already.  

There’s a great introduction from PLA prez, Sari Feldman, p.4-5 who points out that less than half of top 100 US retailers accept in-store job applications, which underscores how important the classes and internet access we offer are to the fiscal well being of our communities.  She also stresses the need for broadband to attract businesses to our towns.  The jobs they bring will also spur local economic recovery and growth.  Classes to help investors make hard decisions, for those facing foreclosure and to counsel people on fixed incomes are also mentioned.  But she cautions that we can’t lose sight of our core values even as we grow and change.  A literate society is able to adapt and grow and think critically – qualities we need to nurture in these times of rapid transition, when just finding a job or reducing costs can tax our imaginations – so we still need to encourage people to read.

The issue is packed with useful information and tips.  On p. 6, Paula Moore (Arlington Heights Memorial Library) tells of their checklist with six positive actions for jobseekers.  Dianne Harmon of Joliet Public Library (p.9) suggests alleviating shelving staff shortages by leaving unshelved carts in the library with signs letting users know that every item checked out from them means one less thing for someone to shelve (a great example of emotionally intelligent signage).  She also gives other helpful staffing hints like using volunteers to take pictures of programs.  (Photos are a great way to promote the library and its activities, so be sure to take advantage – those with concerns over violating patron’s rights should see these discussions on photography in libraries – they’ll put your minds at ease.) 

Just providing somewhere for folks to “get out of the house” is yet another benefit of libraries – and this shouldn’t be underestimated.  For the unemployed, as time goes on, it can be harder and harder to get motivated, so the library as “Refuge” (p. 24) can provide much needed structure and play a role in the psychological well being of our service areas.  Joliet’s also intent on helping newcomers so staff in all departments are being trained in reference interviews so they can all welcome newbies with library instruction and enthusiastic promotion of their services.  I laughed at her offhand remark that they are seeing an increase in the number of authors asking the library to buy their new books – seems like the unemployment crisis will add to our store of printed knowledge.

Peter Pearson’s article, Fundraising and Advocacy in Tough Times on p. 21 had some really hopeful information about why we shouldn’t be afraid to continue our efforts in the downturn.  Our donors may not have been greatly affected by the economy.  But remember – outside support should never take the place of government funding (p.42).  And see another helpful article from PL’s 9-10/09 issue on how language can help validate our impact (Transforming Our Image Through Words That Work: Perception is Everything by Valerie J. Gross), especially when seeking donations or budget increases.

The article on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (p.44) had some very creative ways for libraries to benefit via senior employment and rural facilities grants – for those who think it’s too late, look for more funding in early 2010.  And to help libraries advertise service cuts proactively, there’s a great list of FAQs from Phoenix Public Library on p. 38.

The whole issue is about being flexible and responding to our users’ needs – or as James B. Casey from Oak Lawn Public Library says on p.35 “the single most important factor assuring future development and public acceptance will be the library’s willingness to invest the time, talent and money needed to keep up with the technological innovations and trends that capture the public’s interest.”  So check out this issue and find out ways to do just that.

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