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A Blessing or a Curse? Coping with Library Budget Cuts

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By Babette Wofter, Assistant Director, Licking County Library
 

A director I once worked for would often reiterate the quote “May you live in interesting times.” Upon researching this phrase I find that it is often referred to as an Ancient Chinese proverb and curse. The actual authorship is actually open to debate. Nonetheless, I have found myself reflecting on those words many times throughout the last year.

As a twenty-year veteran to the field, I was in uncharted territory at this time last year. The Licking County Library started with reorganization, eliminating eight positions including four professionals. This was immediately followed by a call for voluntary lay-offs and/or retirements. Further cuts were made by year-end that included all part-time help and those full-time staff that were hired after July 1, 2007. All told, twenty-eight staff members were dismissed in two months time.
 
Sunday hours were eliminated, service hours reduced and the materials budget was reduced significantly. Still, it wasn’t enough, as the state budget spiraled further and further downward and as we prepared a permanent budget for 2009, we knew more would have to be done. Salary reductions and furlough days were implemented and have kept us in the black. Yet, if there can be any comfort in numbers, we were not alone. Ohio Libraries suffered cuts like none this generation had ever seen. All of the above mentioned cuts were common front page news, list-serv posts bemoaned the plight we were in and our loyal library supporters came out in full force to beseech the legislators to fund their library. Never a dull moment, it has been truly a year of living in interesting times.
 
A blessing. Yes. We’ve prioritized and analyzed almost everything we do both behind the scenes and on the public service floor. There is nothing like a crisis to capture your undivided attention and pull you out of the rut of doing it like it’s always been done. We’ve learned and grown (and groaned) from this experience finding ways to do more with less staff and building partnerships with volunteers and other organizations. 
 
Joining the Serving Every Ohioan (SEO) consortium was our biggest leap this year. By sharing resources with 73 other library systems throughout Ohio, we have increased our collection by over 6 million items. Participating in a consortium is one of the best ways to enhance customer service in a cost-effective way. 
 
The challenges we have faced have given us the opportunity to educate the public on not only what we can provide, but how we are funded. An unprecedented passage of 81% of a record number of levies (38) in the most recent election is further proof that we are not only blessed but very highly regarded by our customers.
 
Interesting times…a curse. There are days, yes, when I have indeed cursed, but we are a much stronger organization for having endured the storm.