1. Understand the Big Picture: The Question of Fairness
While you know intuitively that economic challenges are fueling library budget reductions everywhere, when the cuts hit your library, it feels personal. Important questions have to be answered. The question which must be answered first will affect all the rest of your steps: Is the library’s budget being cut with fairness, or is the library being singled out as the easy place to cut?
If Your Cuts are Challenging, but Fair:
If you determine that the cuts your library is facing will be challenging but not disproportionate to those of other departments of your city/county/township, you have already made one major decision about how to proceed to the next step. Fair distributions of budget cuts mean that your next steps will be collaborative, not adversarial. You now have an opportunity to demonstrate to decision makers that the library’s leadership is important to the community - in smooth times and in challenging ones.
Chances are, your library’s use has increased since the economy has been under stress. Now is the time to take your place at the table and work with colleagues in other departments to determine how losses in one area can be supported in another. For example:
- Are you likely to lose some evening hours? Can the recreation center or another facility serve students who would normally frequent the library in the evening?
- Where will job seekers go if your library is closed an extra day each week?
- Do people have free access to computers elsewhere in your community?
- Who will welcome the seniors who spend time in your reference area reading newspapers and magazines?
How can you and your colleagues in leadership positions work together to address these issues together and in a way that brings as little disruption of service as possible?
If Your Cuts are Challenging, and Don’t Feel Fair:
If you feel that working with other departments alone will not solve your problem, or if the cuts are disproportionate, requiring the library to shoulder an unfair portion of revenue reductions, you have a very different problem and very different steps to undertake. Your response will be shaped by a number of criteria, but some new questions need to be answered before you take action.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- How have community services and materials been affected by cuts already?
- What might happen if the current trend continues?
- How is the library valued by its community members?
- Has your library faced a number of consecutive budget reductions? What have the cumulative affects been?
- Have other city/county/township departments faced reductions? What is the size of the library’s potential reductions relative to those?
- What type of supporters do you have, and how prepared are they to communicate with decision makers?
- Can you, the library director/manager, work visibly with your supporters, or do you have to stay out of the public spotlight to preserve your own employment situation?
- Are your library and your community prepared to undertake a library advocacy campaign to prevent unfair budget cuts?
If you determine that your cuts should be challenged and that an advocacy campaign that generates public support for the library might reduce their impact, then it’s time for you to gear up, gather your staff and other supporters and become an agent for change.
The Power of Advocacy
Advocacy means supporting a cause or course of action. It includes a wide range of activities from simple, everyday interactions by library staff to carefully-organized lobbying activities.
All of us are free to speak up for the ideals and institutions we cherish. Librarians, library staff and people who understand that the library is essential to the well-being of its community have an obligation to exercise that freedom. Your task, and theirs, is to persuade decision makers that your library’s services are a contributor to and an indicator of community health. The library directly impacts a myriad of community issues such as adult and child literacy, truancy, crime, employment, equal access to information, cultural enrichment, lifelong learning and more.
If your budget cuts don’t feel fair for any of the reasons above or for any reasons of your own, don’t underestimate the impact that advocacy efforts can make. In today’s world, where people are often too busy to take time to become a visible supporter of institutions that are under threat, voices of advocates ring out louder and clearer than ever.
It’s easy to think about advocacy when there is a crisis situation, but advocacy is something that should be part of every library’s everyday agenda.