Help for Libraries: Overdue, but Not Too Late

August 9, 2011

by Florrie Binford Kichler
President, IBPA

Your library is your paradise.—Erasmus

After 30 years on the line, Dan was let go by the factory. In a technology-driven economy, he had no computer skills, no job prospects, and no money for training.

They helped him find a job.

A class of 4-year-olds from low-income backgrounds took part in a program that combined literature with technology-based learning experiences—and fun.

They helped them find a future

Who are “they,” and why should we care?

They’re librarians—the heart of the library, and our trading partners on the front lines of distributing our content to readers. Selling to libraries has always been publishers’ bread and butter. Libraries purchase large quantities for branches; returns are minimal, and payment usually arrives within 30 days (and does arrive). If there were any such thing as the perfect customer, the library would come pretty close.

Even now, as change rocks the book industry, computers elbow out bookshelves, and e-books replace stacks, the library, though buying less because of budget constraints, is still buying.

As publishers, we count on libraries for our livelihood. Now libraries are counting on us for theirs.

Paying for Free

Not just an information hub, the library of today—and tomorrow—is a community center, providing free access to services, education, and technology. Historically funded by tax dollars, the library is one of the very few places open to all citizens.

During the most recent recession, as discretionary spending and tax dollars decreased, businesses suffered, consumers clung to their wallets, and many lost their jobs. With money unavailable for entertainment or job training or job hunting, where could people go for help, no questions asked and no forms to fill out in triplicate?

To the library.

And they did—in droves. According to a Harris Poll of a cross-section of Americans, the ALA’s 2011 State of America’s Libraries reports, “Library use continues to increase. Overall, the library’s most highly valued services pertain to the provision of free information and programs that promote education and lifelong learning. Ninety-one percent (up 5 percentage points from the previous year) place great value in the library’s provision of information for school and work.

“And almost all Americans (93 percent) believe that it is important that library services are free.”

Free—but at a cost. The same economy that sent people to the “free” library in search of information, entertainment, and services caused (and is still causing) state and local budgets to take a nosedive—the very budgets that fund your public libraries. Branches are closing, reducing hours, laying off staff—in short, doing everything that businesses do when customers go away—except that the library’s “customers” are increasing at the very moment that their resources are vanishing.

Four Easy Actions

What can each one of us do, as a publisher and citizen, to support our local library? The good news is that you don’t have to be a millionaire to help, and the better news is that by taking one or more of the steps suggested below, you’ll not only be helping the library in your town; you’ll be supporting the community where you live and work.

Join the Friends of the Library. In Indianapolis, where I live, membership in the Friends of the Library costs $25 a year. You get a card recognizing you as a Friend, early access to the library’s book sales, and preferred seating at a (free) annual lecture event. Although $25 may not sound like much, if 1,000 people chose to give up six-plus low-fat lattes each and became a Friend instead—well, you do the math.

Serve on a library board. My service on the board of the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation continues to be tremendously rewarding (and eye-opening). The stories about Dan and the preschoolers were just two examples of the many lives our library touches. It’s a privilege to be able to contribute to that effort.

Support local book, author, and reading events. The Indianapolis Library, with backing from local foundations and businesses, sponsors a yearly Indiana Author Award that recognizes emerging, regional, and national authors from our state. That’s just one example. Check with your city’s library for upcoming events. Get involved—there are many ways to participate even if you don’t have big bucks for a sponsorship.

Volunteer. I know, who has time? But could you spare a couple of hours on a Saturday once every few months to teach a workshop about some aspect of book publishing? Libraries need to convince local government that they are fulfilling their charter in order to receive funding—and a workshop that provides education and information will help in that effort.

For Meeting More Needs

Dan went to the library in search of computer and job-hunting knowledge—and the librarians delivered.

The children went to the library to learn the computer skills that will be critical to their success in school and life—and the librarians taught them.

Our libraries are struggling, and they need our help: as publishers, as citizens, as readers. Your business, your community, and your culture are at stake.

Please support your local library.

First published in the July, 2011 issue of the IBPA Independent, publication of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA)

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