In Pennsylvania, most librarians walk around with a knot in their stomach on a regular basis. When they hear of budget negotiations, they get a panicked look in their eyes similar to that on the faces of most kids on the first day of kindergarten. They are going to take more money away from us. And you know what...they probably will. And the reason is...say it with me...they don't understand the relevancy of libraries. Excuse me while I, once again, climb up on my soapbox.
Why don't they understand? How can it be that, these elected officials who travel around their communities and speak with their constituents, have no idea? The truth, unfortunately, is that librarians are 90% responsible for this. And we won't take any of the blame.
On Friday night, we celebrated the opening of Discover Earth: A Century of Change, a traveling exhibit visiting 10 libraries across the country. My guest list did not include the library's Friends. It didn't even include most employees. I invited every single municipal official, every county official, all of our legislators, etc. Most of them didn't come, which was expected. Some, however, showed up on Saturday and the rest will trickle in because they'd rather do it than hear from me every week wondering why they haven't. The ones that showed up on Friday were complimentary and thought it was great. Then I asked each and every one of them the important question...what are they planning to do to assure that I can do something like this next year, and the year after that?
We are all used to politicians telling us one thing and doing another when it comes to the official vote. They have other concerns, some of which should absolutely trump libraries. Two years ago at a Chamber event, the speaker - a senator - put me on the spot in front of everyone. I was standing in the back of the room and he peered over the crowd and asked, "Penny, what kind of funding do you want next year." I quickly yelled out, "Level!" I can't wait to answer this year. (Hint: it will NOT be level.)
Why, in the name of all that is sacred, do I think our decision makers in Harrisburg should even consider an increase in library funding? With all the other services, what in the world am I thinking? Let me preface this by saying that I raised two daughters so I know all about the entitlement mentality. That's not at all what this is about. We deserve it. And we need to be on their heels every single day of the year reminding them, not just when it's time for a vote.
I like the officials that represent my community. I don't always agree with their politics, but I really do like them. When I run across them in a restaurant or at an event, they know who I am and we can have a conversation about things other than politics and money. I no longer have to retrieve the touted elevator speech from my memory and spit it out quickly before they turn their backs and shake another hand. I also make it a point to be on a first-name basis with the politicians that represent my community on a national level, even though they have nothing to do with library funding. Why? Because the old saying is very true: it's not what you know, it's who you know. It's nice if I don't always have to start my conversation with statistics and complaints.
I've already started my local funding requests for 2014. Nothing is formal, but I truly believe that using the word "relevancy" over cocktails and dinner is far more effective than waiting until I'm standing in front of them for my 10 minute dog and pony show. After I'm done, there will be others with requests. So, as I crawl off my soapbox, let me simply say that I am expecting appropriation increases from everyone - from the state to local municipalities. I won't get it, but I expect it. I know they can't all afford it, but I want them to remember that libraries deserve it.