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How to Save Your Library

Last week I wrote about ways to keep your library healthy and off the radar of politicians who are looking for easy budget cuts. What if, despite your best efforts, your library gets put on the chopping block, anyway? Is there anything you can do? Here are some ideas based on my own experience in fighting a recent library closure effort. (We won and got to keep our library!)

  • Write your politicians. While you definitely want to write to the local politicians who are pushing for the cutbacks, you also want to write to the federal/state representatives of your district. They may not even know that the local politicians are considering cutbacks. This was the case with our library. Our federal representatives had no idea what was going on in their district and once they found out, they leaned heavily on the local politicians to give up the idea.
  • Protest (and let the media know you’re doing so). If your library is facing closure or severe cutbacks, hit the streets to protest. A well organized protest or sit-in can go a long way toward generating awareness. Call the media beforehand to let them know so they can cover it. (Just make sure you get any necessary permits and that things remain safe and reasonable. Don’t get arrested.)
  • Demonstrate the value and the need. It’s all well and good to protest and write letters to the head honchos, but you need to do more than complain. You have to demonstrate the need for, and the value of, the library. Point out that this is where low income people can use computers to hunt for jobs and support that with statistics from your area. Note how many kids come in for tutoring every day. Note how many clubs or groups rely on the library for meeting space. Show how many home schools in the area need a library nearby. Tell the officials how many more educational resources the public library offers above and beyond what the local school libraries offer. It requires research on your part, but the more statistics, numbers, and real life scenarios you can show the decision makers, the better chance you have of winning the fight. (In my experience, this isn’t something the politicians are going to do. They’re just going to say, “Close it,” without further investigation. Proving the need is going to be up to the community.)
  • Get everyone involved. It helps if a diverse community of users fights together. If the only ones complaining are affluent soccer moms, it’s easy for officials to dismiss the complaints because they know those people can find books and resources elsewhere. Rally the senior citizens, kids, minorities, teachers, PTA groups, book clubs, homeschoolers, and anyone else who uses the library regularly so that the politicians see exactly how many groups will be hurt by a closure or cutback.
  • Vote. If library funding/closure comes up on the ballot in your local elections, get to the polls. Even if you hate all the candidates running for other offices, at least get in the there and check the box that gives your support to the library.
  • Get the big names on your side. Celebrities and high-level politicians can often sway decision makers more than a group of well-organized protesters (sad, but true). Find well-known writers to back your cause. If your area doesn’t have any, enlist a well-known columnist, radio, or TV personality. If you can get a federal politician to weigh in against the local politicians, that’s great, too.
  • Go viral. Social media is your friend. Use Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to get the word out and to organize protests and meetings. People who never read the newspaper or watch the news might be on social media, enabling you to alert more members of your community to the problem. If you can make a short video demonstrating the harm to the community if the library closes (and send it to the media), so much the better. Get creative and come up with unique ways to reach your audience and get your message across. One library cleared the shelves in protest.)
  • Look for private backing. It may be possible to get a corporation or a group of local businesses to chip in money to help the library. In some states the laws don’t permit this, but do some research to find out if private backing is allowed. If it is, knock on some doors. If you own a business, consider donating. If enough private money can be found to lighten the operating costs, the politicians might stave off the execution of your library.
  • Provide constructive ideas and alternatives. Sometimes the politicians vote for cutbacks or closures without thinking things through (shocking, I know). In our case, they skipped right over looking at things like reducing hours, using more volunteer help, charging nominal fees for library cards, reducing electricity usage (and the associated bills), cutting down on waste, and other simple cost-cutting measures. While not ideal, it was successfully argued that the community would much prefer reduced hours and small fees over complete closure. Give the decision-makers reasonable alternatives and ideas to consider so that they don’t have to jump straight to closure.

While these ideas may not work in every case (sometimes you just run afoul of a government that is determined to close a library regardless of what the citizens want), they will at least give you a fighting chance. Good luck!

 

(Photo courtesy of violey)

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