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Strong Libraries Mean Strong Communities
Spring 2009

Across the Board | Spring 2009 | Topic: Strong Libraries Mean Strong Communities
The Mid-Hudson Library System's Quarterly Newsletter for Public Library Trustees


"A good public library benefits and serves the entire community. While trustees are not usually involved in the day-to-day activities of the library, they make policy and fiscal decisions crucial to the life and direction of the library. Their decisions impact the lives of people and the future of their community."
- Handbook for Library Trustees in New York State


Now more than ever your community needs a strong library.

It's 2009 and the Wall Street Journal has already reported that, "Folks are Flocking to the Library"; The New York Times reported, "Times are Tough, Libraries are Thriving"; and USA Today reported: "U.S. Libraries on Borrowed Time?"

Locally, the System reported a 14% increase in items being carried through the delivery service at the end of 2008 - a statistic predicted to increase this year. As a board how do you:

The short answer? Make a commitment as a board and to do what is necessary to assist your community and its members get through this economic crisis.

Here's the longer answer: As we face one of the most trying economic times in our history libraries have an opportunity to step up and demonstrate their value to the community - a value that has always been there but has become part of the safety net in our communities.

To do this you, the individual trustee, need to be flexible, proactive and positive at board meetings. Make sure the library's services and communications are as responsive as possible to community needs. While it may be tempting to cut services, staff and hours, your patrons actually need you to focus on the continuation of vital library services that can help them through these tough times.

Intensify board "best practices" this year, particularly in the areas of planning, fiscal practices and community outreach. Make sure your library can keep up with demand so it will be well positioned for the future.

Planning
Change the plan or create priorities without a formal long-range planning process this year. Re-visit your board's priorities for 2009. Re-visit your long-range plan. Take a look at what is actually happening in your library and community: What services are being used more? What services can the library offer to assist people at this time? For example:

Fiscal Practices
Fiscal accountability and transparency are critical every year. However, as money gets tighter any weaknesses in your financial controls and policies, fiscal management or budget planning could be harmful to the future of the library.

Keep in mind that trustees should be the ultimate library advocates and supporters. If you don't believe in the critical nature of the services you provide and the value they bring to the community, why should anyone else?

Community Outreach
Community outreach begins with your internal "audience" of staff, Friends and volunteers. They are critical to the success of the library and need communication from the board just as the community-at-large does.

The board can help the director set a tone of "yes we can" internally through support of activities that empower and support staff, along with recognition of the good work staff does on behalf of the community.

Your staff may be helping patrons who are in very sad situations - people who have lost their jobs, seen their retirement accounts wiped out, or have lost their access to adequate health care. It can get depressing. Let your staff know that what they do is important and that they are part of the solution in your community.

Communicate regularly with your Friends Group (if you are lucky enough to have one). Their mission is to support the library's mission and it is helpful in their planning if they are aware of the board's priorities.

Your external audience is your patrons and the community-at-large. Most of your patrons already understand the library's value to the community and appreciate your efforts. They could become part of your communication strategy: Help them help you by providing basic information about your goals this year.

Consider educating the community about library services to be an on-going priority. It most critical this year as unprecedented numbers of people who may be unfamiliar with your core services begin to seek you out.

Your library already provides much of what people are looking for so ensure that it is easy for a new patron to understand and access your services. Avoid the trap of focusing on what is new - there are many people in your community who don't know simple things you may take for granted.

As a board, along with your director, conduct a "PR Audit": Ask yourselves if it is easy for a resident in your community to find the library's, phone number, hours, street address and web address. Making sure that basic information about your library is available in print, on the web site, and in an eNewsletter is the first step in your PR Audit - it is also one of the NYS Minimum Standards for public libraries. Is this information also available at the circulation desk?

Beyond the library's hours, web address, street address, borrowing policy, here are more examples of basic library information that should be readily available to patrons: how to get a library card; how to renew an item; how to register for programs; how the library is funded; how the library is governed; what it means that your library is a member of the Mid-Hudson Library System [http://midhudson.org/about.htm].

Patrons may want to know what they can do through the library's web site. Make it easy for them to find a listing of events and programs at the library, find book recommendations, request items from other libraries for local pick-up or pay fines online.

Patrons may also be interested in the subscription databases on your web site: practice tests: GED, AP, civil service, military and professional exams; magazines and newspapers; Chilton Manuals (auto repair); Price It! (antique and collectible pricing); health and wellness; business and investment.

Consider "repackaging" how you talk about your available services so you match the context of people's lives this year. Here are some examples:

Have some of your patrons considered dropping premium cable channels in order to save money? Let them know they can:

Have some patrons indicated they are worried about job security?

Or use a list - people love lists!

The board might consider adding more money to the PR budget this year in order to reach people unfamiliar with your library services. Let them know how the library can help improve their quality of life.

Consider making connections with local community leaders. Local community leaders are everyone from your federal and state representatives and local government officials to religious leaders and community activists. Connecting with these leaders is critical as libraries strive to get a seat at the table when talking about community solutions to economic problems. Make it a priority to show the library is a part of those solutions; help local leaders understand the role your library plays in the safety net for your community.

Getting the word out! If you take the time to listen to what the community needs, find the funding to provide it, roll out services, but no one knows you did it, how effective are you?

At every library board meeting you have the opportunity to make decisions that will impact lives in your community. So guard your resources, be nimble in responding to changing needs in your community, and continue to do what's best for the community. If you are true to your mission, we believe you will come out stronger as the economy improves - and your community will remember that you were there when it mattered.

Five Ways To Save @Your Library

1) Try before you buy.
Books, movies and music purchases can really add up. Try them out before investing your hard earned dollars.

2) Drop some magazine subscriptions and read ours.
In the library or through our web site.

3) Save on family outings.
Attend our free family-friendly programs.

4) Can't afford Aruba this year?
Research local travel destinations at the library.

5) Two words: Free Internet

For more ideas check out, "Get Through Tough Times @ your library" By Christine Ayar on ilovelibraries.org

 

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