It is time to get started. Library advocacy season is upon us again and it is time to tool up. It is going to be a tough year. The budget looks worse than ever. The numbers are still in flux but right now we are looking at massive cuts across the board at all three public libraries in New York City. There will be hundreds of layoffs EACH at Brooklyn, New York, and Queens Public Libraries if the projected budget goes through. There may be over a thousand jobs on the chopping block in the city libraries this year.
What would it mean if they went through? Let’s examine it as a library science problem. Libraries in the city have been in a hiring freeze for years now. They have however been losing staff during that time due to retirement and attrition. There are potentially hundreds of jobs on the books at libraries. All you library school students who read that and salivate, don’t. They are not being filled in order to retain the staff that are there already and avoid layoffs. There will almost assuredly be further job losses this year.
Currently staff on the ground at libraries are stretched thin. There are a lot of long desk shifts going on in the city. Staff illness impacts people more than it should since one person missing a shift dominoes into a huge issue. Management at the libraries has been doing a lot of scrambling to keep the lights on, the doors open, and the books going in and out.
On the doors open thing, we’ve been losing hours. They’ve been clawing to keep them but the losses are happening. Yes the three library systems are open seven days a week but honestly even six day coverage is thin on the ground these days. The less libraries are open the less people use them. The less they use them the less they value them. The less they value them the less they will fight for them. The less they will fight for them the less money the libraries get in the budget. The less money they get in the budget the less they will be open. It is a cycle and it is vicious.
Which brings us back to the current situation. Right now all those tired staff and stressed management are still keeping the doors open. Lose that staff, can that management, and the doors close, the lights go off, the books sit on the shelves or are carted out. Three years of budget cuts have carved the libraries down to the bone. The libraries are on track to possibly lose as much as a third of their staffs. That bears repetition, a potential third of their staff. This will break us for a decade at least, maybe longer, if it goes through. That is not hyperbole, it is fact.
The libraries will have to go onto split shifts. This will have one staff working two libraries. They will each be open for half the week. That means that on any given day of the week there is a good chance that your library will not be open. It might be open Mon., Wed., Fri. or Tues., Thurs., Sat.. If you are a kid with a test tomorrow there is a 50/50 chance your library will be shut. If you use the library for internet access you are now on half time and checking your email every other day at best. If you swing by the library to pick up a book or a movie you might well find yourself out of luck. If you use the library to keep warm/cool you’re fucked but are probably used to it by now.
This has happened before, in the 70s. People who worked it hated it. It took about twenty years for the libraries to get back to the same levels of staffing and service hours. This time around it might be even more sticky. Nowadays, in the age of Google and e-readers, plenty of people doubt the need for libraries at all. What if a generation, the kids who are say 8-14 now, grows up with the library only open now and then but with a smart phone on their hip every second? If we shut the doors will they ever wander the stacks, take home a big pile of books, or have a great conversation with a librarian whose every atom is focused on getting their answer? Will this generation drift away from us? When the libraries start to drift and fade away altogether will they even care?
You know what to do people. Cynicism, burnout, and apathy are not options for us. Grab a stack of postcards, go ahead, do it now. Then take those postcards and work the room, any room. Put a mess of them together in an envelope and send them to our pal on the City Council Jimmy Van Bramer. He’ll make sure that people see them and that each tiny little card of paper you get in adds weight power to our message.
Let’s bury them. Let’s give them a postcard roar. Start now. Immediately. Go!
Jimmy Van Bramer
47-01 Queens Boulevard
Sunnyside, New York 11104