Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sick of "Doing More With Less", Aren't You?

This is all in reference to a wonderful article by author Scott Turow on how cutting library funding is killing more than just library jobs, it's killing communities:

Scott Turow: Let Them Eat Cake Attitude Threatens To Destroy A Network Of Public Assets

One of the phrases being kicked around in public libraries is "doing more with less".  I've heard this for the last few years, especially since 2009 when the governor of Ohio cut the PLF (Public Library Fund) by 20%.  People were so frothing mad that they marched on the state capitol, flooded the governor's office and the offices of the state reps and senators with emails and phone calls (we even shut the phone lines down at one point), and got Strickland to back down.  But he only backed down to 20%.  He had initially started in the high 40s.  Other states have gone through the same kind of budget turmoils, and still are.  And as soon as budget and funding talks started and the fear of lay-offs and cutting hours and materials became more of a reality, we put the key in the engine of the phrase of "doing more with less."

Every time I hear that phrase I hate it a little bit more.  At the professional conferences, there are whole workshops on how to "program on a shoestring!" and the presenters are so excited about showing you just how to do entire children's programs and spend no money.  First of all, I'm not knocking these presenters.  Most of the time, the ideas are solid.  But in my library system, particularly in my department, we were programming with very little money spent before the state cut the PLF.  And we did fantastic, inventive programs.  We didn't need to spend $5 or $10 a child on a princess tea party or a superhero program.  Perhaps I'm biased, but I think that when you spend money like that all the time, you get used to it.  You get used to having those resources, and when they're taken away, you're left holding an empty programming bag.  Again, not always true of everyone but I've seen some of these librarians left utterly clueless as to what to do when they don't have money to spend on programs and the like.  I have a suggestion....

Start getting creative.

Kids appreciate a program whether you've spent $50 or $.50, or nothing at all.  One of my favorite programs in the last year was an outer space/alien program.  I bought a tube of glow-in-the-dark bracelets for $1 at Target and at the end of the program we made alien masks, put on our glow bracelets, turned on some music, and shut off the lights.  I have video of those kids dancing around in the dark like little light-up aliens, and they had a blast.

(You can see my little aliens @ the 1:05 mark, but the whole video shows our programming on virtually no money.)

Scott Turow's point in his article is that libraries keep getting their funds cut, and state governments are cutting in the wrong place.  I wholeheartedly agree, but with one caveat - if all of the funding for public libraries all across the country were to be restored back to the levels they were at before the executioner-style cutting began a few years ago, would we return to the levels of spending, or would we be wiser?  Would this brush with "doing more with less" (ugh, I'm practically gagging from having to type that) be a lesson well learned, or would we simply put the money-goggles back on and start spending without a brain again?  My library system serves a population that, in city, is fairly poverty stricken.  From a PR standpoint, it does not look good when any library starts blowing money left and right on things it doesn't need instead of using money for community outreach, materials, etc.  Would library boards and administrations return to levels of "stupid spending" if our funding was restored, or have we actually figured out that the library should be serving the people of the community?

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