Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dollar Bills, Y'all

We all know that library funding has taken some serious hits over the past few years. For many students entering library school, and eventually the library field, one of the biggest decisions is deciding what type of librarian to become: public, special, academic or school media. This decision can be made based on what type of library seems to be the most financially stable - probably not the public library?

That being said, tough financial times cause libraries to get creative. Many feature PayPal donation buttons on their websites; others, including my previous and current libraries, create elaborate fundraisers to entice the public into giving. These are in addition to taxes, bonds and other ways the government pays for libraries.

For whatever reason, (public) libraries love baskets and silent auctions. The usual scenario involves an evening event lasting from two to three hours; tickets generally cost $20 to $35 with a small discount for couples. Wine flows, hors d'oeuvres are passed and money is raised. Perhaps casual entertainment is provided or a raffle is held. Staff may or may not get to attend for free - if they do go for free they usually have to work in some capacity.

Currently, there are about a hundred baskets displayed all around the front of our library. Some have been up for so long they need to be dusted. Almost all of them block some part of the library: the circ desk, the new book shelf, the audiobooks, the DVDs. It's driving me crazy! And while it's supposed to be run by volunteers, they still depend heavily on staff which eats up valuable hours in the workday and may or may not delay library services. I am seriously wondering if we break even after it's all said and done.

I'm realizing that my aesthetic perspective is a combination of less-is-more and the-eye-needs-white-space philosophies. This rings true for my library displays, my office, my home and even my car (no bumper stickers, thankyouverymuch). Ah, but I am in the south, but more specific than that, Appalachia; their idea of simple elegance can be seen every time you walk into a Cracker Barrel.

I guess what I'm saying is that I know (public) libraries need money and there's nothing wrong with fundraisers. However, we must remain mindful that we are public agencies, not for-profit businesses. Displays should be small, concentrated and maybe only two or three weeks prior to the event - not for a month and a half. We serve a wide variety of customers, including small children, special needs groups and those with very little income. A tasteful, focused display is less likely to cause tantrums, unnecessary repetition of explanations, theft or embarrassment than an explosion of high-dollar shiny monstrosities blocking high-traffic areas.

An underlying issue here, which we never talked about in library school, is the reality that in many cases the financial supporters of the library - those terrifying groups of blue hairs and ladies who lunch - may not actually be active users of the library. How do you balance the demands of a high-touch group of donors and the needs of the actual patrons? Do you ply the wealthy with fundraisers and baskets while the poor people populating your computer lab wade through the displays and smudge up the cellophane? What about staff who are being paid hourly wages who can barely afford a ticket and certainly can't buy any of the auction items?

I don't have any answers for this. All I know is that I'm glad I'm not the Easter Bunny; I apparently hate baskets.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent point, YogurtMoon! I never really thought about how the donors are different from the users. I am an avid user of the PL, but not so much a donor, as I have no extra money.
    I guess we shouldn't see HOP, then?