Budget cuts, the sinking economy, the effect on services - we have all been hearing about it lately. And of course a budget crunch is going to have an impact on the library - despite the fact that as times grow tough, the library offers so many things to those who are having financial difficulty, so it seems a shame to cut the library's services. While my library system has been well supported and does (and will, I hope, continue to) offer a wide range of services to the community, we have been informed of some of the many changes that are to come. It's hard to argue with them, really, as the money isn't there, and we clearly need to cut back.
But still, I'm upset. One of things my library does is offer a summer reading program (SRP) with incentives to encourage children to read over the summer. Kids who read during the summer months return to school with better literacy skills than kids who don't - it's simple, but true. Toward the end of the school year, we children's librarians go around to the public schools to talk up the SRP and get kids excited to come to the library to sign up. We read dozens of books and prepare many book talks for kids in all the different grades with enticing, teasing descriptions of the books we've chosen to highlight for the summer. It's a blast - we use puppets, act things out, use silly props. We tell them all about the different free programs we offer throughout the summer - puppet shows, arts and crafts, clowns, music, live animals, science demonstrations - all kinds of things.
It is so much fun, and it works - the kids come in to sign up - more every year - and they ask for the books that appealed to them from the book talks. The best thing is that we are able to reach many of the children whose parents wouldn't normally take them to the library in the summer. Often the parents come from other countries and are unfamiliar with the wonderful free services provided by the public library. Or maybe they are just not library users. The kids initiate a trip to the library - they get library cards, and their parents become familiar with the library, too. With luck we soon have a family of dedicated library users, and kids who are reading and learning and coming back for more.
Well, not next summer, and maybe not the summer after that. We'll still do the SRP, in a more limited form, but no more school visits, and no more book talks. No more staff programs in the summer. Sigh. It's a depressing prospect. We are thinking about other things we might be able to do, but I feel as though I've just lost the ability to perform an important aspect of my mission as a children's librarian.
So, here I am, feeling sorry for myself (and the kids who might miss out on an important opportunity), and I come across this post by a friend and regular patron of my library. Talk about warm fuzzy feelings! It reminded me that, even though they're taking away some of the whistles and bells, we are still lucky to have the resources we do, and there is still a lot we can do to promote literacy and a love of books, just by being there, being friendly, and making the library a place kids - and their parents - want to be.
The image above has been used under Creative Commons licensing. It is called Melancolia by Thiago Fonseca and illustrates my feelings perfectly! See this page on Flickr for more info.