Thursday, January 27, 2005

Budget Cutting in Libraries-- Can We Keep the Doors Open?

Can We Keep the Doors Open?
From a reader: Dear Information Ethicist: Take a look at this news item. The Free Library of Philadelphia has laid off more librarians and will not be able to staff libraries with professonal librarians all the time, but the doors of more libraries will be open on Saturdays. What do you think?

News Item, January 21, 2005
Philadelphia Announces Cuts in Hours, StaffFour branches of the Free Library of Philadelphia begin half-day service January 24, the first of 20 branches to move to an afternoon-only schedule as part of a cost-cutting reorganization. In addition, 13 librarians and four library administrators were among 200 city employees sent layoff notices January 10.
Officials say the changes will allow all 55 city libraries to offer Saturday hours and be open during peak-use times. “What we are trying to do is target when the libraries are used the most,” said Dan Fee, Mayor John F. Street’s spokesman, in the January 15 Philadelphia Inquirer. Only 10 libraries are currently open on Saturdays, and between July and December last year, libraries were closed for a total of 734 hours because of staffing shortages, officials said.
But library supporters worry about eliminating librarian positions and say the changes will hurt the system, the Inquirer reported January 20. “If library usage is low in some communities, then we should be working harder to increase patronage, not shortening hours,” said Amy Dougherty, executive director of the Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Library Director Elliot Shelkrot acknowledged that branches moving to half-day service would not have librarians on staff, but said that if needed, patrons with reference questions could be referred to a librarian at a nearby branch. “This is much better library service than we have going on today,” he said.
Posted January 21, 2005.

Dear Concerned Reader: Budget cuts in libraries are always difficult. In this case, the decision is to keep the libraries open even though there will not be professional librarians on duty. In fact, librarians have been cut all over the system to permit the doors to stay open. Concerned Reader, there is no easy answer to this problem--so common now in LibraryLand. But note that this is nothing new. Even in times of prosperity, libraries are often staffed by support staff and in colleges by students. The larger issue is money--isn't it always. How can we provide the excellent services our patrons deserve if we have to keep cutting staff? How do we make the library more visible and librarians a more appreciated group in our world? The time is right for us to do all we can. See the efforts of the American Library Association and their plans for National Library Week and other campaigns
Your Devoted Information Ethicist

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