A Response from a Fairfax County Supervisor

Last week, I posted an open letter to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, as well as mailing them a letter and a signed copy of the book, This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, by Marilyn Johnson.

Today I received a response! Jeffrey McKay, the Lee District Supervisor, sent me the following letter:

Dear Ms. Eklund:

Thank you for taking the time to write in support of our Fairfax County library system and also for the signed copy of This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.

I appreciated the passages you marked, along with the thoughtful points you make about the value of libraries. Because last year, the budget cuts to our library system were so large, I was very pleased to see that the County Executive spared the libraries this year. While it’s too early to know what the final budget will be, I will be considering your common sense observations about the value of libraries in my deliberations.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey C. McKay
Lee District Supervisor

p.s. I am very glad that you were able to rejoin the library system in November.

***

I’ve got to admit — that’s a nice letter to receive.

Mind you, it’s a politician’s letter. Notice that he definitely does not make any promises about trying to restore library funds.

But I do feel like he’s considered what I had to say, and that’s really what I was after. Times are still hard, and I do realize that coming up with the county budget is a huge task with hard choices. I hope they will at least be thinking about ways to restore library funding. It’s nice to learn that the point I was trying to make was at least heard.

And I really do appreciate such a friendly response.

Open Letter to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

Today I sent the letter below to the members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, along with a copy of This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, by Marilyn Johnson, in support of restoring Library funding. I would love to get lots of comments from readers who support libraries. Please read, comment, and share!

Dear Supervisors,

I am writing to speak up on behalf of Fairfax County Public Library. Please consider restoring some of the funds and hours that were cut in the last two years.

Back in June, my job as Youth Services Manager at Herndon Fortnightly Library was cut, and I was transferred into the Office for Children as a Management Analyst. Although it was the same pay grade, the new job had much less responsibility, much less challenge, did not supervise anyone, and did not require a Master’s degree. Most telling, though, I did not feel that I was doing nearly as much good for the people of Fairfax County as I could daily in my Librarian job.

Shortly after the RIF, I wrote a review of the book, This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, by Marilyn Johnson. The book made me proud to be a Librarian by calling, as it pointed out the many ways librarians serve the people of their communities. It pointed out that in a recession, libraries are more necessary than ever. I said in my review, “This book is indeed overdue! I wished so much that I could afford to send a copy to each member of the county Board of Supervisors!”

In January, the author herself found my review online. She told me she would be happy to donate copies of the book to send to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. So I am now presenting you with this book, signed by the author. I’ve marked a few passages that talk about how librarians benefit the communities where they work.

Along with this gift, I want to make three points about the 30% library budget cuts of the past two years.

1. If Education is truly a high priority in Fairfax County, then we need to have strong libraries to support that education. Students need internet access to do more and more of the assignments. For many students, the Library is where they get that access. But that’s only the beginning of how we support education. The Library still supports students in the traditional way of providing resources for reports, science projects, and supplemental materials. Studies have shown that library summer reading programs make a huge difference in students retaining what they’ve learned during the school year.

But we don’t only serve students who attend the public schools. We serve homeschooled children and those who attend private schools. We serve college and university students. We serve adults who want to teach themselves something new or find out how to complete a project. We serve people who want to acquire new job skills or prepare for certification tests. We serve seniors who suddenly have to use a computer to prepare their taxes. We serve immigrants who want to learn English. We serve people who want to learn about current issues and vote as informed citizens. We serve parents of preschoolers and provide programs that build early literacy skills, making them more ready for success when they start school.

2. If Human Services are truly a high priority in Fairfax County, then we should not cut library funding. Sadly, the people the cuts hurt most are the people who are least likely to speak up. In libraries, I often see homeless regulars. They are too proud to ask for help from more traditional social services. The shelters don’t let them stay there during the day. But they spend their days with dignity at the library, and do not have to apply to get that help. If their local branch is closed, they will not be able to just run over to the nearest regional branch.

I also think of the many people who come to use the library computers to apply for jobs. Most jobs now require an online application, and we see several people applying for such jobs every single day at even the smaller libraries. Or the middle school students who use the library to do homework while their parents are at work. They can’t just go to another branch, either.

3. In the overall scheme of the county budget, the amount cut from the Library was tiny. This was glaringly obvious when last year’s budget carryover was eight times the amount that had been cut from the Library. Conversely, a tiny amount going back to the libraries now will make a huge difference in the service we are able to provide.

Libraries provide vital help to the poor – but they also help the rich! Studies have shown that proximity to a library even increases property values. An investment in libraries provides benefits both tangible and intangible.

Please consider restoring some of the Fairfax County Public Library budget.

Regardless of the decision you make on the budget, I hope you will enjoy this signed copy of This Book Is Overdue! It’s a fun look at how librarianship is changing – and vitally necessary – in the 21st Century. I should add that I am happily back in FCPL as of November, when a Librarian retired. So I’m not making this appeal for my own job, but for the people of Fairfax County. I did write this letter on my own time, expressing my own opinions as a resident of Fairfax County. I am also planning to post the letter on my blog, www.sonderbooks.com/blog.

Empower Fairfax County Public Library to serve your constituents more effectively! “In tough times, a librarian is a terrible thing to waste.”

Sincerely,

Sondra Eklund

Here are some links to more articles in support of libraries:

Scott Turow, in an article “Let-Them-Eat-Cake Attitude Threatens to Destroy a Network of Public Assets,” says, “Widespread public access to knowledge, like public education, is one of the pillars of our democracy, a guarantee that we can maintain a well-informed citizenry.”

Philip Pullman writes in “Leave the Libraries Alone. You Don’t Understand Their Value,” “The public library, again. Yes, I’m writing a book, Mr Mitchell, and yes, I hope it’ll make some money. But I’m not praising the public library service for money. I love the public library service for what it did for me as a child and as a student and as an adult. I love it because its presence in a town or a city reminds us that there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about, things that have the power to baffle the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism, things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight.”

Roberta Stevens wrote an article titled “Technological and Economic Shifts Have Only Made Libraries More Valuable.” She says, “Today’s challenging economy demands strategic investments. While the job market continues to recover, one of the best uses of public and private funds is to help ensure that people are digitally literate and are improving their employment skills.”

What do you think? I’d love it if this gift of books, through the generous donation of Marilyn Johnson, would get people speaking up on behalf of Libraries.

The Value of Librarians

Twitter has informed me that today is International Save Libraries Day. Since that’s a topic I feel passionate about, I feel compelled to make some comments on the subject.

Last week, a marvellous article was posted by Philip Pullman in response to the threatened Library cuts in the UK. I love how he explained that the people balancing their budgets by cutting libraries don’t seem to realize that libraries are about a lot more than money.

I especially love these lines:
“The public library, again. Yes, I’m writing a book, Mr Mitchell, and yes, I hope it’ll make some money. But I’m not praising the public library service for money. I love the public library service for what it did for me as a child and as a student and as an adult. I love it because its presence in a town or a city reminds us that there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about, things that have the power to baffle the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism, things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight….

“Leave the libraries alone. You don’t know the value of what you’re looking after. It is too precious to destroy.”

Of course, this article especially hits home because budgets for libraries in my own county, Fairfax County, Virginia, have been slashed the last two years. I lost my own job, and was put to work in the Office for Children for six months instead — until a Librarian position came open after someone retired.

The crazy part is that Fairfax County prides itself on its highly educated work force and outstanding schools. The libraries get less than one cent of each tax dollar, yet the schools ask for a larger share of the budget pie each year. And, yes, I value those schools. My own son attends the high school rated number one in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, and that is the main reason why I will NOT consider moving out of Fairfax County as long as he is in high school.

However, working in the libraries, I see that for so many, many county residents, the libraries are not fluff. They are not about optional things like “culture,” but a vital way to support their children’s or their own education. They are how people access government basics like tax forms and employment basics like job applications and living basics like English classes and materials for learning English and acquiring US citizenship.

Recently a study came out that found “a strong link between library use and a pupil’s reading achievement and enjoyment.” These results are not a surprise at all to librarians, but perhaps would be surprising to our Board of Supervisors members who think that libraries are not essential to the community.

I also love the way the Philip Pullman article dashes the idea that libraries can be run by volunteers. He says:

“Nor do I think we should respond to the fatuous idea that libraries can stay open if they’re staffed by volunteers. What patronising nonsense. Does he think the job of a librarian is so simple, so empty of content, that anyone can step up and do it for a thank-you and a cup of tea? Does he think that all a librarian does is to tidy the shelves? And who are these volunteers? Who are these people whose lives are so empty, whose time spreads out in front of them like the limitless steppes of central Asia, who have no families to look after, no jobs to do, no responsibilities of any sort, and yet are so wealthy that they can commit hours of their time every week to working for nothing? Who are these volunteers? Do you know anyone who could volunteer their time in this way? If there’s anyone who has the time and the energy to work for nothing in a good cause, they are probably already working for one of the voluntary sector day centres or running a local football team or helping out with the league of friends in a hospital. What’s going to make them stop doing that and start working in a library instead?”

I love that paragraph because it points out how foolish, but how common, it is to undervalue librarians. This was especially brought home to me when I was transferred out of my Librarian I position into another job at another county agency at the same paygrade, a Management Analyst I. Note that since that time, the Management Analyst position was upgraded one paygrade, so now they are not at the same level.

A Librarian I position requires a Master’s degree. I have two. The Management Analyst I position does not require a Master’s degree at all. My former Librarian position as Youth Services Manager supervised two people. The Management Analyst position did not supervise anyone at all. The Youth Services Manager position was responsible for organizing the schedule for all library programs at the branch. The Management Analyst position didn’t have nearly that level of responsibility. Working as a Librarian, I get to help people daily — finding information for them for a multitude of reasons, sharing good books, helping children love reading, helping people find the resources to complete an assignment or pass a test or get a better job, and so much more. Working as a Management Analyst, I got to help the organization jump through hoops and satisfy government bureaucracy in the USDA Food Program. Yet the two positions were paid the same, and now a Management Analyst is paid more.

I don’t think most people realize that a Librarian job requires a Master’s degree, and that it’s actually used. After reading Philip Pullman’s article, one of my librarian co-workers commented that many of the smartest people she knows are librarians. I’ve found that true myself. And that’s one thing I love about a Librarian job — It actually uses my intelligence, far more than teaching college math did. Sure, I had to be smart to get the college math teaching job, but once I had the job, it was only about sharing what I already knew, not about using my intelligence to find new information. It was actually a disadvantage that math came easily to me — It was harder for me to understand how my students could possibly not understand!

It’s generally accepted in America that school teachers are valuable and should be paid more. I claim that librarians, who help people educate themselves, who provide help to entire communities, not just certain age groups, are also valuable and should be paid more. Of course, the field is hugely dominated by women, so it’s no surprise that the pay is not the same as a job that requires an equivalent amount of training in, say, the computer field. And the truth is, I love the job so much, I would do it for far less, if I could still afford rent. But that doesn’t mean I should do it for less!

And to tell the truth, as soon as they took my job away, I went in and volunteered at my old library on weekends. But I only volunteered a few times, and I only worked a couple hours at a time. You could not run a library with volunteers like that, but it did point out that I love the job so much, I’d do it for free.

Another great article I read this week was on the blog LaRue’s Views, titled “The Best Is a Bargain.” In this article, he asks people how much they pay for internet access and cable TV. Then he asks them how much they pay for their local public library. He says:

“The answer, based on national data, is this: households pay an average of $2.68 per month for their public libraries. Guess what. We provide education, entertainment, and social connection, too, except it actually benefits the entire community.”

He continues:
“I don’t own a terribly pricey home. But my library bill comes to $60.43. Per year. That’s $5.03 per month. It’s almost twice the national average. On the other hand, we are the number one library in the country for our population size, too.

So for $5 a month I can check out all the books, music, and movies I can use. I can take toddlers to free storytimes. I can go to civic events. I can see art, practice foreign languages, use really high speed public computers (although I may have to wait awhile for one to free up). I can even download library books and music from home, 24/7.

Libraries make our communities smarter and more interesting.”

When I commented to the member of the Board of Supervisors from my district that they had a “carryover” that was EIGHT TIMES the amount they’d cut from libraries, he responded, among other things, that library funding is not mandated, like school funding. They lumped libraries together with parks in the budget breakdown because those are “optional” services that the county is not compelled by law to provide.

To that I want to respond like Philip Pullman: “Leave the libraries alone. You don’t know the value of what you’re looking after. It is too precious to destroy.”

In a couple weeks, I’m doing a little piece of library advocacy myself. Back in June, I posted a review of the book This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, by Marilyn Johnson. It made me proud to be a librarian, because it pointed out how library work has changed with the times and how more than ever we help people navigate today’s world.

She recently came across my review and offered me ten copies of the book — to send to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. I have gotten several Library Friends groups to help me send them, so we are going to send them to the Board of Supervisors, trying to make these points in particular:

1. Libraries are essential.
2. Cutting libraries hurts the community.
3. If you truly have priorities of serving Education and Human Services in the county, there’s no more cost-effective way to support those values for more people than supporting libraries.

I’ll finish up my comments with a link to a post from Wil Wheaton. Here’s someone who understands that the value of libraries and librarians goes way beyond money.

“Libraries are constantly under attack from people who fear knowledge, politicians who think guns are more important than books, and people who want to ensure that multi-millionaires pocket even more money. As an author, father, and a reader, I beg you: please support your local libraries in any way you can, and if you enjoy reading, take a moment to thank a librarian.”

Fairfax County Public Library Budget Cuts

Well, I just got back from Fairfax County’s budget forum, and I’m so discouraged I want to cry. I will try expressing some of my thoughts here, instead.

Now, I did get a chance to speak up for libraries — to say that the cuts they made in the last two years to the library system were totally unacceptable, bad for Fairfax County, and should be restored. But I felt like people just thought I was biased because I’d been RIF’d from the library. (For those who are lucky enough not to have experience with the acronym RIF, it stands for “Reduction in Force.” Back in June, I was cut from my position as a Youth Services Manager in a community library and placed in another county agency at the same paygrade as a Management Analyst I.)

Actually, I’m luckier than the people who did not get RIF’d — I have much, much better hours than people who still work for the library. They have to work until 9:00 pm two nights every week, and they have to work every other Saturday, and some every other Sunday. They have trouble scheduling vacations because staffing is so low, and they feel guilty if they’re too sick to work. What’s more, my new job is much, much less challenging, does not require a Master’s degree (I have two), and doesn’t supervise anyone or have to set up a program schedule or have to serve the public or have to make decisions about weeding the collection. In other words, it’s something of a vacation from stress. (And I hope to get back soon — I hear that before long a Librarian I will retire.)

But I feel terrible about the library cuts because it is so terribly bad for the people of Fairfax County.

The worst part is that the people who are hurt most by the cuts are exactly the people who don’t have much of a political voice — the unemployed, children from families without internet access, the homeless, college students, home schooled families, parents of young children, immigrants who need to learn English, people who want to interact with the government but don’t have computers, and so many more. These people, the ones hurt worst, are exactly the sort of people who don’t tend to speak up in the political process. So that was why I felt the need to go to the budget forum and say my piece, since I do have a voice.

It’s frustrating. The county says that two of its top three priorities are Education and Human Services. Yet libraries serve both of those areas in a very cost-effective way, yet they are put in the category of “culture” and are therefore low priority. That’s nonsense! Libraries are all about education, and for EVERYONE, not just the children who use the public school system.

Though it also supports the public school system by giving students the resources to get their homework done and supporting their reading skills during the summer.

What’s more, libraries are one of the only places where you can get help without having to apply for it. This is help that preserves your dignity. Computers to apply for jobs. Help to apply for jobs. Research materials for classes. Consumer information. Programs that build early literacy and future success for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Not to mention free books!

Libraries are the one resource that really really helps the poor — but also helps the rich! Of course, the downside to that is that some rich people think that since it would be no hardship for them to go without the library, it’s also no hardship for anyone else. How wrong they are!

I wonder about our homeless regulars at my former library — what are they doing now that the library is open so much fewer hours. In the library, they could retain their dignity and use the computers and books like any other customer.

And every single day, even at a smallish branch, we got people using the internet to look for jobs and people asking for books to learn English. Not to mention the regular flow of children needing help with finding materials for a school assignment. I understand that the parents of babies are already asking why the library is not doing programs for them every week, but instead once a month, if that.

It’s because of BUDGET CUTS, folks!

When you’ve cut the number of librarians down to barely enough to keep the library open, you just can’t do as many programs. No more on Saturdays, which was great for working parents. For my former library, it’s down to the bare minimum.

What really added insult to injury was the news a couple weeks ago that the Board of Supervisors had carryover money — more money than had been anticipated — and they decided to put $24.9 million into a “rainy day fund against future budget shortfalls.”

What’s insulting about that was that this amount is EIGHT TIMES the amount they cut from the library system last year, $2.67 million. So it makes it look like all our sacrifices — the rotten hours, closing the doors on customers who need us — didn’t actually make any difference. In fact, that was a TINY, miniscule amount in terms of the overall budget — less than a tenth of one percent. But in the last two years, they have cut more than 30% from the library’s budget, and that has devastated the library system.

So, the one bright spot in the meeting tonight was when the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors was saying that the cuts they’ve already made are sustainable and long-term — but she specifically mentioned the cuts in library hours as an exception to that.

But otherwise, though I got to say my piece, I felt that those there simply don’t realize how vital libraries are to the poorer people of Fairfax County. That with a miniscule investment of money in terms of the big picture, we can restore the library funding and make a huge difference, for the better, in so many people’s lives.

Support education and human services in Fairfax County — Restore Library Funding!!!

“Cutting libraries in a recession is like cutting hospitals in a plague.” — Eleanor Crumblehulme

So you know it’s not just me, here are a few links about the value of libraries:

1) Libraries help the economy:
Many links on the economic value of public libraries:
http://stephenslighthouse.com/2010/04/06/the-value-of-public-libraries/

2) Libraries support education:
The Importance of Summer Reading: Public Library Summer Reading Programs and Learning
http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/summer/brief01.pdf

3) Libraries keep the gap between the information “haves” and “have nots” from getting too much wider:
Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries
http://www.gatesfoundation.org/learning/Pages/us-libraries-report-opportunity-for-all.aspx

4) The important role of libraries in a democracy:
http://thoughtsofawannabelibrarian.wordpress.com/2009/02/05/public-libraries-and-democracy/

http://stephenslighthouse.com/2010/08/22/5203/

http://archive.ifla.org/IV/ifla66/papers/101-122e.htm

I could go on, but I should probably stop. If any of my readers is a Fairfax County resident, please send an e-mail to your member of the Board of Supervisors: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/government/board/

Also be sure to comment on the budget forum page: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/budgetinput/

Support Education and Human Services! Restore Library Funding!

Note: The opinions expressed here are entirely my own and do not in any way reflect the opinions of my employer.

Library of Congress Photos

The Library of Congress has some amazing archival images posted online.

This set is of color photos from the 1930s and 1940s.

These are amazing to browse through. As I look at them, it dawns on me that even though, intellectually, I know that the world was the same then as now, in my heart it’s almost as if I believe Calvin’s Dad and think that everything used to be black and white.

Actually, this recently struck me about some other photos — when a friend posted pictures from his trip to Dachau, it struck me that I wasn’t used to thinking of Concentration Camps in anything but black and white. It seems to be the same with old pictures. You mean the world was actually in color then?