Busted Flat in Baton Rouge . . .


Wait’n on a train and that train may be about to hit us square in the mouth.

That train has a name and it ain’t “The City of New Orleans” or “The Orange Blossom Special.” It’s a freight train of budget cuts, recession, and assorted other economic woe. It’s headed this way and it’s moving at express speeds.

So, in light of this coming misery, I’ve got another one of those nasty questions for y’all to ponder, namely, how likely is your program to go under? Think about it very rationally and dispassionately for a moment. Throw all the studies out the window. Get your nose out of Information Power for a minute and go over to Doug Johnson’s Blue Skunk Blog and read the memo he just had to send out to his constituents.  If that doesn’t chill you with a Minnesota blue norther, check out Rob Darrow at California Dreamin’ and see that the Left Coast libraries aren’t faring much better than the Midwest or the South.

I don’t care if the pundits on Wall Street don’t have the guts to say it . . . I do. We’ve passed “economic slowdown” and are firmly in a recession and if things don’t get better pretty fast, well, I’ve always loved the stories Papa and Granny told about the 1930’s. Looks like I may end up with some of my own. Take a look around, folks. As my beloved Waylon Jennings used to put it, “This here outlaw bit has done got out of hand.” Read this article from the Associated Press about the latest on the government bailout of the banks. Over $700 BILLION of our money is going to try to act like Liquid Plumber and unstop the credit clog that has effectively shut down our economy. I may not be popular for saying so, but I’m all for it because if we have many more crashes like WAMU or Wachovia, well . . . I don’t know what’ll happen, but it sure won’t be good.

Oh yeah, now there’s this little matter of the Big Three car manufacturers asking for a bailout as well or they are going to have to file bankruptcy and most likely go under themselves. That is going to draw another massive amount of money — I’ve seen figures from $8 billion all the way to $25 billion. Should the government refuse to bail Detroit out this time, the recently released 6.7% unemployment figures for November will be a pleasant memory.

So what does all of this mean to us in libraries, especially school libraries? Simple. When the well runs dry them what depends most on the water dies first. I’m already hearing reports from colleagues in other parts of my home state that funds have been frozen. One librarian posted on our state association’s listserv that, “I’m not planning on being able to buy ANY books this year.” The district where my wife works (incidentally one of the richest in this state) has suspended all travel and professional development conferences indefinitely. Budge and I always attended our state technology conference together as sort of a working vacation, but not this year. I’m lucky our state’s association conference is near enough for me to drive to every day so I can stay home or I wouldn’t be going to it.

I know lots of you are in the same boats. What are your plans? Like I said before, look hard at your program. Can you justify it? Can you even justify your job position in the face of massive budget cuts across many boards? (Our state funds were slashed 3% at the beginning of the year and then by 3% more six weeks later.) Put yourself in an administrator’s shoes for a bit. The DO has been informed by the state DOE that X% of funds are GONE. Since poop has always flowed downhill, the DO goes to the principals with the message, “cut deep and cut now then plan on cutting more soon.” How safe are you in your library office? Can you REALLY put together something for your principal or school board that will sway them enough to keep you in business when every dime counts double?

Let’s face it, huge chunks of our jobs that the public sees can be done by someone else for cheaper. We don’t want to admit it because that’s just the way we are, but lean times have a way of punishing the type of hubris I’ve seen in many of my colleagues. Aides can open and close the library and check out and shelve books. A computer lab monitor can take care of the lab and, whether we like it or not, the teachers can teach research and information skills. I know I taught all the facets of the research process in my ten years as an English teacher. I had to because my school’s librarian was a Library Dragon who seemed appalled by the sight of children near “her books”.

Answer this question HONESTLY, brutally honestly, What do you do in your position that, given the present economic circumstances, NO ONE ELSE in the building can do? What makes you INDISPENSABLE? Don’t even bother saying something like collection development because if the district and the state are broke, nothing is going to be available to develop a collection with. Face it, our specialties are not tested on NCLB high stakes tests so in these lean times, our programs are dangerously close to being considered very expensive luxury liabilities.  Say I am a traitor to our profession. Call me a rank pessimist if you wish. Just remember that pessimists are very seldom blindsided since we always expect the worst.

Speaking of “the worst”. Let’s talk “Worst Case Scenario.” Your principal comes to you and says, “Ms. Smith (or Mr. Jones), I’m sorry, but we can’t afford a full time librarian next year. The budget cuts are just too much. Your aide will run the day to day library next year. Since you have so many years of service, we’d like to offer you a position back in the classroom. You’ll be teaching _____ next year.”

What do you do? I’d collapse into the fetal position and cry since one reason (far from the only and definitely not the most important reason) I became a librarian was to leave the classroom and still be able to help children and students. I haven’t had to deal with testing pressure and the daily grind of grading essays, checking homework, and lecturing and planning three ninety minute blocks of instruction in four years. To have to go back to that would be, for me, horrible to contemplate. Of course, I wouldn’t have a choice since I’ve grown accustomed to running water, inside toilets, and hot food. I certainly wouldn’t like it. It would be an emotional blow. How about you? Could you stand losing your office, your position, your program? If you don’t think you can, you’d better find a way TONIGHT to make yourself and your program so valuable AND so COST EFFECTIVE that you can weather the storm when the budget axe starts to fall. Otherwise, it could be a long road ahead.

Wash your feet while you’ve still got a tub to wash them in, y’all.

One response »

  1. Hi Feet,

    Your question about what makes us indispensable is one I’ve been trying to answer and encourage others to ask for about 20 years. I am glad you are taking up the banner!

    You are asking the right questions with the appropriate degree of panic.

    All the best,


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