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What I wish for libraries in 2013

 

Kathy Pillatzki

Guest Columnist

  The year 2012 was challenging for public libraries, not just in Henry County or in Georgia, but everywhere. While librarians are experts at doing more with less, this was the year when the cuts became painfully obvious to the public. In recent years, we’ve cut administrative costs and behind-the-scenes upkeep to the bone to avoid affecting public services, but eventually we ran out of things to cut. Public services were the only things left to absorb the impact of reduced revenue.

  During the boom years in Henry County, all of our resources were directed to expansion. We relocated four libraries to new, larger locations and added one entirely new library. We added staff, expanded hours, and increased the number and quality of services offered.

  It’s difficult to express how hard it was to spend the past few years dismantling all that hard work. The Library Board and administrators have taken some hard blows in the court of public opinion. Please know that we dedicate our careers to increasing access to knowledge, and we would never reduce or restrict that access unless every other course of action was exhausted.

  Reducing hours, staff, and services were the last things we wanted to do, but our hands were tied. It simply isn’t possible to maintain the same level of service on half the funding. Henry County Public Library System is currently operating five libraries on a budget less than what we received in 2006 when we had only four libraries.

  General opinion sometimes seems to be that libraries are becoming irrelevant. Nothing could be further from the truth. Demand for library services of all kinds steadily increased as funding dwindled. Demand increased even with the booming popularity of e-readers. Demand increased even though “everything” is available on Internet. On any given day you can find 20 or more people lined up outside the library when the doors are unlocked.

  Libraries are also a pivotal part of the economic recovery of our community. When people find themselves suddenly unemployed, among the first things they cut from their personal budgets are magazine and newspaper subscriptions and home Internet service. Where do they turn for job search assistance? The public library. We also provide extensive services for those starting new businesses, those seeking professional certifications and preparing for standardized tests, and resume help.

  Yes, libraries require public funding to operate, and we don’t have a “bottom line” that shows we’ve made a profit in conventional terms. But study after study has shown that for every dollar invested in public libraries, the community receives over six dollars in returned value. Libraries are not amenities. They are a public service that provides public value.

   My wish for libraries in 2013 is that this will be the year we begin to move forward again. You’ve heard it said that you can’t fix a problem by throwing money at it, but Henry County Library System doesn’t have a single problem that can’t be fixed by adequate funding. No amount of hand-wringing or finger pointing will get us where we need to be. All public services have suffered from reduced funding during the recession, but it’s time for library administration, the public, and our elected officials at all levels of government to find common ground for the good of the community. Libraries are not part of the problem; we are part of the solution.

  Kathy Pillatzki is the Assistant Director of the Henry County Library System.

 

 

 

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