The end of my vacation is drawing near.
My library system closed at the regular time on December 23rd and it won't reopen until Monday morning. This was a combination of days we would have been closed anyway for the holidays, and furlough leave. (Not to mention that our hours were wonky December 19-23 because of the snowpocolypse!)
The kids of my county only had virtual library service over their winter vacation.
These furlough days we've had this week aren't the only ones we have this year. We're also closing early one night a week. Other branches lost entire days.
But, we haven't had to close any branches, or cut staff hours, or lay anyone off. It could be worse.
Next year will be worse. We don't know how, we just know that, once again, the state has a huge budget gap, which will mean cuts that will find their way down to us. Cuts on top of the ones we've already made.
It's rough out there, not just in my county. Philadelphia almost lost all of its libraries, for good. Here in Virginia, Fairfax county had to lay off 300 librarians. Hawaii is begging for money, and looking at at least twelve furlough days between now and the end of May. And that's just what I can come up with off the top of my head.
When systems are faced with budget shortfalls like these, service, staff, and hours are the last things to be sacrificed. Before they make such noticeable cuts like these, acquisition budgets are slashed, so they wait until a book comes out in paperback before buying it, they buy conservatively, with titles and authors they know will circulate well, making it much harder for new authors to get a spot on the shelf. Hiring freezes are implemented, so branches and departments are frequently understaffed.
At the same time, usage rates are skyrocketing. Everyone's trying to save money, so instead of buying books, they come to the library. They check out movies instead of renting them. They've canceled internet at home, so come use the library for ours. They're depending on librarians to help them find and apply for jobs, often with unfamiliar technology.
Write to your city council, your county board, your state rep, your congressperson, your senators.
Tell them that libraries are important. In this economic crisis, budgets will be cut, because they can't give us money they don't have, but tell them that libraries are important. Tell them how much you need and use your library. I often laugh at library stereotypes of quiet, dusty rooms, and old ladies with severe buns shushing anyone who rustles too much paper, but these stereotypes are hurting us. We're seen as old and outdated, an easy target for budget cuts. But these budget cuts hurt all of us.
And it sucks.