ALA is coming to Boston and this editorial penned by the ALA president and the Boston Public Library director talks about the library crisis. As I was driving home from work the other day I also heard a “Save Our Libraries” PSA by Bernie Mac talking about how libraries need our help. On the one hand, I think this is all great, good to get libraries off of people’s back burners and into their daily consciousness. On the other hand, just like libraries are, at some real level, a local phenomena, dealing with the crisis on a national level is good for raising awareness but doesn’t do much to address the specific causes of library downturns.
Are libraries doing poorly because people forgot about them? No, not mostly. Libraries are doing badly because people are having to make tough choices about where their money is going and they’re chosing policemen over librarians. Libraries are having trouble because the cost of health care is going up by double digit percentages every year and you can bet that library funding is not increasing by the same amount. Libraries are having trouble because of the spiralling costs of serial subscriptions and the shady business practices of some of the former major players. Libraries are in trouble because aggressive “small goverment” advocates are hellbent on convincing people that spending public monies on them is wasteful. Librarians personally are in trouble because some of these library issues pit library vendors against library budgets and one organization — the American Library Association — represents the interests of both. I think ALA is doing a good job raising awareness of library issues, but I’d like to see them get to the roots of more of these problems so that we can have more open dialogue about where the money is and isn’t going, and how we can realistically address that. Please also note the nod to the upcoming “librarian shortage” coming at a time when hundreds of library students can’t find work and tell me how much ALA should be promoting higher library school enrollment?