Why academic librarians should support EveryLibrary

In 2009, Portland, Oregon’s city council proposed that 39th Avenue, a major thoroughfare, should change it’s name Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard to honor the labor and civil rights activist.

This essay was written by J. Turner Masland the Access Services Assistant Manager at Portland State University. Follow him on Twitter @deweysnotdead.

I really did not expect so much drama over the changing of a street name.

In 2009, Portland, Oregon’s city council proposed that 39th Avenue, a major thoroughfare, should change it’s name Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard to honor the labor and civil rights activist.

This was not the first proposed location for the name change, the council had worked with Latino Community organizations for two years to pick a street to honor Chavez. Opposition ranged from residents complaining of the inconveniences the change would cause to flat out racist sentiments. Supporters of the change saw the renaming as an opportunity to recognize the important contributions the Latino community makes to our city as well and the increases in diversity we were experiencing.

Enter Basic Rights Oregon (BRO). As a progressive organization working to ensure equality for LGBT citizens, BRO recognizes the importance of building and supporting coalitions. Helping Latino community organizations win this battle would ensure their support for BRO’s battles. Social justice victories are more often won when they have a broad base of support. Unfortunately, not all of BRO’s constituents agreed with this sentiment. They, being mostly white middle aged men, took to social media to demand that BRO only focus on gay issues. They did not understand why their donations were going to fund the project of getting a street renamed when they still could not legally marry in the state (this was before Gay Marriage passed in 2014). These individuals were short sighted, and their comments were divisive. Insisting that BRO have such a narrow focus alienated potential allies. Such close mindedness benefited no one.

These constituents were not living their lives by what bell hooks would call a love ethic. That is, living your life to not only fight oppression but to not be seduced by the power of oppression. Knowing that in order to seek justice for yourself, you must fight injustice for the good of the whole community.

Eventually, the street was renamed. And during BRO’s fight for marriage equality, they had the support of the Latino community organizations. Any fight for social justice anywhere matters to every fight for social justice everywhere. So, what does street names and social justice have to do with libraries? A bit, actually. In this case, I think it’s an appropriate parable.

At it’s base - EveryLibrary keeps libraries open. They keep libraries open by supporting the fight for funding at the ballot box. Funding for public libraries can come from a variety of sources, but the majority of it comes from taxes. When local governments are forced to make cuts, the library makes for easy picking. Fire and police departments save lives, road infrastructure helps with the transportation of people and goods. It’s easy for elected officials to ask why we need libraries in the age of google (the answers to that question are many, and are for another piece of writing). And this is where EveryLibrary comes in. Their resources support the boots on the ground, helping to frame arguments in support of the library, getting out the vote and securing millions of dollars to keep libraries open. And just as public libraries are vital to their communities, they are also vital to academic libraries.

“Any library initiative anywhere matters to every library everywhere.” This can be found prominently on EveryLibrary’s website. Working in a resource sharing department of a large state university library, I feel that I have unique perspective on the truth of this sentiment. The academic success of our students and the important work of our researchers is dependent on accessing the collections of public libraries throughout America through interlibrary loan services. Some of these libraries hold unique, rare or historic collections that support our students and faculty in the humanities. Others might have better funding and have access to up-to-date databases that help support our scholars in the sciences. During 2013-2014 my institution accessed 6700 articles and 5400 books through interlibrary loan. Granted, not all of these items were from public libraries. But a lot were. And ensuring public libraries stays open ensures that there are plenty of sources of information access for our patrons.

The importance of valuable relationships among an array of libraries goes beyond resource sharing. We hear so much about the “21st century information environment.” Let’s take the environmental model and run with it. Along with thinking about libraries in terms of ecosystems, let’s think about them in terms of ecotones. Ecotones are where two different biomes meet: grasslands and forest or forest and wetlands or oceans and beaches. Ecotones are known for having a rich and diverse spectrum of plants and animals since they are rich in resources. There is typically water, a variety of options for food and shelter and opportunities for different species to intermingle. Life thrives at an ecotone. Another definition of ecotone is the border where two communities meet. Let’s think about the different kinds of libraries as biomes, and the ecotone where these libraries overlap. Healthy, robust, vibrant libraries are going to support rich and diverse communities. Much like a traditional ecotone, there will be an overlap creating opportunities to share resources and for different types of patrons to intermingle. Again, using Portland Oregon as an example: we have a multitude of libraries in our city. Large academic and public libraries and small, specialized libraries including art schools, medical schools, corporate libraries and law libraries. These libraries can’t provide everything to everybody, and many of the smaller ones can’t support a robust interlibrary loan system. But through programs like the Oregon Library Passport Program, they can help support each other in meeting the needs of all their patrons.

So why should academic librarians support EveryLibrary? Much like the LGBT and Latino organizations supported each other, or the work of a conservationist to protect pristine ecosystems and ecotones, we need to follow their example. We need to build an industry with a love ethic as our foundation. For the good of our patrons, for the good of our communities, we need to support one another.

This week’s Lib Elections News

County Leaders in Pima (AZ) are considering the closure of 4 libraries and closing on Sundays in 8 others. Recent cuts by the state legislature have resulted in a deficit for the library. The county wide district does not have the surplus to cover this loss and the county administrator is considering a tax increase. The Board of Supervisors will discuss this at the budget hearing scheduled for today.

On April 16th, voters in the Saratoga Springs School District voted, in overwhelming support, to pass a 0.5 percent increase in the library's operating budget. With 231 yes votes to 24 no votes the increased passed by over 90 percent. The total library budget for 2015-2016 will be $5,078,265.  

Early voting has begun in New Orleans and the public library has a 2.5-mill increase on the May 2 ballot. This would be the first increase since Hurricane Katrina and is expected to bring in over $8.25 million per year. If you are resident don’t let the opposition groups stop you from voting to keep libraries open. Also on the ballot for May 2 in Louisiana, the libraries in Washington Parish are seeking a 10 year renewal on their 4.6 mill library tax. Proposition 4 will fund 4 libraries and its passage is necessary to keep the libraries open.

There will be a measure on the June 9 ballot for residents of Cohoes City (NY) to form a district for the public library that follows the boundary of the school district.  It would serve members of the Cohoes City School District, but have its own board of trustees and tax base. They are asking for an initial appropriation of $490,000 per year to be paid for by property taxes. The Flint Public Library (MI) will be asking city residents for a tax increase in August. The 0.6-mill property tax is expected to bring in and additional $447,000 in the first year. The library has been facing drastic cuts, up to 50 percent of the operating budget since 2009, with declining property values in the area.

Other Happenings

We have an open call for submissions for the innagural issue of our new journal The Political Librarian. Yesterday we put up the first question to help generate ideas. Details are here.

Much of the dialog and advocacy in the profession concerns ways to enhance, improve, or augment state and federal revenue for local libraries. But when these nonlocal sources of funding are limited to a few pennies per capita, the effectiveness of each library is limited to its local tax base. As we have seen during the recent recession, without a diverse funding streams from multiple sources, library funding is at the mercy of local political forces. What can and should be done to provide a more stable tax environment for local libraries within regions or states?

Last week we announced a $15,000 donation from Gale, a part of Cengage Learning, for outreach to the tech community. Thanks to this generous donation we can now begin a nationwide effort to reach out to national news outlets, bloggers and influencers in the startup space, in a sustained way to bring up the visibility of libraries to this industry. More details on the donation and the full joint announcement here.

That is all for this week. Join us next week for another round up. Happy trails!