MHLS Home Trustee Resources: Across the Board
The Worth of Your Library
Winter 2008

Across the Board | Winter 2008 | Topic: The Worth of Your Library
The Mid-Hudson Library System's Quarterly Newsletter for Public Library Trustees

Did you know…
During The Great Depression libraries were not closed down, in fact, they expanded. Between 1929 and 1933 registered cardholders skyrocketed and circulation at public libraries grew by 40%.
-Innovation and the Library, Verna Leah Pungitore, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995

"Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries."
-Anne Herbert, The Whole Earth Catalog

Times are tough. There's no doubt about it. Everyone is feeling the impact of the current economic climate. Government and businesses are forced to tighten their belts, nonprofits and social service agencies are facing funding cuts, and members of your community are worried about their jobs and paying their mortgage. There is a lot of doom and gloom out there, but libraries can be a beacon of hope for many communities.

The fact that in the worst economic climate we've seen in more than 60 years, 88% of library votes in the MHLS region to increase taxes passed in 2008 is a clear indication of how much people value their library.

Traditionally, public libraries are part of the "safety net" people rely on in tough economic times, but this time we can do more. Over the last decade, libraries have become recognized as one of the most useful community resources. Now is the time to not only demonstrate our value, but increase it.

In times of crisis there is opportunity. We need to make our libraries a place that community leaders, people in need and funders look to for assistance.

Emphasize Services
Our users know the value of libraries, but now is a good time to publicize the services your library already offers to people who have not used libraries recently.

Basics like:

You know there are more things just like this at your library that would be news to many people who haven't used the library in recent memory. There's no need to create new or elaborate programs to "wow" them, you've got plenty of "wow" factor already! How can your library help them take advantage of these basic services?

Emphasize Entertainment Dollars Saved @ the library:
Buying books is becoming a luxury. The ability to borrow books of all types from the library - kids books, the newest legal thriller, cookbooks, how-to books - enhances peoples lives and saves them tons of cash.

For people dropping magazine subscriptions to save money the library can fill in the blanks between their print subscriptions and online access to thousands of popular magazine and journals.

Many people still do not know that libraries, supply thousands of popular movies and television shows on DVD. If someone is dropping their Netflix subscription or Blockbuster card to save a few dollars the library can fill in on Movie Night.

Internet access at the library is not just for research. For example, people seeking to "escape" with a game of solitaire or Bejeweled can find what they need through your public access computers. For families dropping their high-speed Internet connections to save money, and for families that never had a computer or Internet at home - the library is the #1 point of "free" Internet access.

Be sure your story-hour programs are offered at times that all families can benefit: working families need family programs in the evenings and on weekends.

There is an increased in interest in cooking as well as crafts and hobbies during tough economic times as people seek ways to save on the costs of eating out, buying gifts and going out for entertainment. Be sure to create displays of related books in your library and consider planning programs around these topics as well.

Emphasize How Critical Support Can Be Found @ the library:
Job seekers: Libraries can assist people newly laid off or who are concerned about their jobs with access to online job applications, job search strategies and career exploration.

Career help: In addition to books on job searching, all libraries provide access to online databases that can help people research industries and careers and prepare for the GED; civil service and military entrance exams; licensing tests for law enforcement, real estate, the postal service, and many other fields; plus college and graduate school admissions exams.

Seniors who would be disenfranchised from critical health and government services information primarily found online can use the library to help navigate this myriad of services available. Seniors can also connect with children and grandchildren who may live far away, and providing basic computer skills classes can help empower seniors to jump in and reconnect.

Families that cannot afford to go out to the movies or other entertainment venues can look to the library for programming for teens and kids. Parents are looking for quality interaction with and for their kids, and the library provides that. Many libraries are expanding beyond the traditional story times to draw in a broader range of young people - gaming programs have become particularly popular as have mother and daughter, father and son book discussion groups. Small tweaks to programs you already offer can make them attractive to the whole family.

Extra cash: Help connect patrons with some extra cash by introducing them to the Price It! online database for antiques and collectibles pricing. People can find out what is valuable and what is trash. When cleaning out an attic or garage, you check the price of objects with Price It! to see if they are worth selling.

Explain the "Library Environment":
Allowing people the permission to relax, take some time for themselves with a great book or movie from the library, is Mental Health 101 in these challenging economic times. The library can provide a respite from the sometimes overwhelming chaos people confront on a daily basis.

The basics of human dignity can be found at the public library. The philosophy of American public libraries is that they are imperative for education, employment, enjoyment and self-government and therefore are open to all people of the community regardless of "origin, age, background, or views." [Library Bill of Rights, American Library Association]

Create an environment in your library where anyone in your community may come through the door and find what they need - whether it be to relax with a good book, read to their child, find a job, access resources to help them deal with a strain on their marriage due to financial troubles, or maybe just another human who will start the conversation with a smile.

Tout Library Efficiencies
Libraries in New York participate in one of the most efficient and cost effective infrastructures in the state. Cooperative efforts among the libraries in our System have resulted in patrons of even the smallest libraries having access to over 2.25 million items and thousands of online newspapers and magazines. System-level services like the shared automation system, delivery, and staff and trustee education are estimated to cost an individual library 33% more if they had to pay for those services directly. For every $1 invested in the System the public sees $13 of service [NYS Division of Library Development].

Chipping away at the infrastructure of the System will result in higher costs locally. Fees for services like delivery or loss of centralized services like training for staff or graphic design will push local library budgets up. Which would your community rather pay: $1 of their state taxes for library service or $13 locally for the same service to be provided less efficiently?

Become part of the Solution

Although all entities have to bear their share of the burden, libraries are part of the solution and need to remain strong. We do not cost taxpayers a lot of money and they get lots of service. So how can we, as library advocates, work together to ensure our taxpayers, both patrons and non-library-users, and legislators understand the key role libraries will play in the coming years of this economic "crisis"?

Here's what you can do today

A Message from MHLS Executive Director and 2009 President of the New York Library Association (NYLA), Josh Cohen
The Mid-Hudson Library System has worked hard these past few years to make sure our services meet the needs of our member libraries. We have continually adjusted our services and areas of expertise to better meet your changing needs - not only because this is the right thing to do, but out of necessity in order to remain viable and relevant to you after more than a decade of flat funding. While we feel we have done a good job so far, with the upcoming cuts we will be looking even harder at our services, how they are provided and paid for. We have convened a taskforce of library directors to help us navigate these uncertain economic times to make sure any member fees that need to be instituted to retain services are developed in a fair and equitable way.

I encourage every trustee in the system to participate in the Quality Service Survey for trustees now available on our web site, Quality service has been defined as ensuring that patrons have a positive experience at the library, that they are being treated with respect, and that they are able to obtain the information they request in a timely manner.

The responses to this survey will help MHLS to effectively design and offer services that best meet your needs in providing quality service to your community. Your input is a vital part of the process. Your library director and staff are also participating in this Survey.

We hope that by working together we can sustain and improve the quality of library services in the Hudson Valley in the coming years.


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