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Budget Cuts Putting Squeeze On Libraries Nationwide

American Library Association President Roberta Stevens
Courtesy of
American Library Association President Roberta Stevens
Budget Cuts Putting Squeeze On Libraries Nationwide
What are the greatest threats currently facing libraries? We speak to the president of the American Library Association about the budget cuts that libraries throughout the nation are facing, and look ahead to how libraries will continue to evolve in the future.

What are the greatest threats currently facing libraries? We speak to the president of the American Library Association about the budget cuts that libraries throughout the nation are facing, and look ahead to how libraries will continue to evolve in the future.


Roberta Stevens, president of the American Library Association


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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. And you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Administrators and librarians from across the nation were gathering in San Diego next week for the American library association's midwinter meeting. And the chill in the air won't be just come the weather. Libraries are facing tough economic times. Here in San Diego, public library hours have been cut. And new city budget proposals may call for the closing of several branch libraries. Libraries are also facing challenges from new technology with E-books and computer services more in demand. America's libraries are being forced to redefine and to advocate for their continuing value in society. I'd like to introduce my guest, Roberta Stevens is president of the American library association. And good morning, Roberta.

STEVENS: Good morning, Maureen. Nice to be with you today.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, thank you so much for your time. Now, libraries actually here on These Days have come up a lot in our discussions lately, and most of the talk, unfortunately is about budget cuts. Is this something libraries are dealing with across the country.

STEVENS: Maureen, this is something libraries are dealing with across the country. I live here in the northern Virginia area, and two of our major library systems, Fairfax County and Montgomery County have been experiencing the types of cuts that San Diego has also been talking about. So this is pretty common across the country, and it's a tremendous loss. We're very concerned about it. Of course it comes out of cuts that have occurred with both federal -- not so much federal, actually, but state funding and local funding in particular, which supports public libraries heavily. And with the revenues having decreased for sales and particularly with real estate values, it has caused some real reductions in the budgets. And this means lost opportunities for people to use their libraries, which are key today.

CAVANAUGH: Now, many cities, as I say, including here in San Diego, were struggling with the idea of how not to cut public services like fire and police protection. Of so libraries, sometimes bear the brunt. How do you argue for the value of libraries in this tight economy?


STEVENS: In this tight economy, the libraries have become even more important because people were using libraries for their small businesses, and of course to regrow this economy, there's a big focus on people being able to begin their own businesses. Many small business owners come to libraries, not only for the information resources, but they also come to the library to use the computers, for e-mails, for the support that they really could not afford to do on their own. But in addition to that, we've also got a tremendously important role with people who are out of work and looking for jobs. We offer job workshops, we offer workshops in resume writing, we offer them the opportunity to apply on line for jobs. This is -- we also provide them the opportunity to research the companies that they may be applying for so that they have a bit of a leg up for when they go in for an interview by knowing more about the firm. So all in all, libraries have been key to really the economic well being of their local communities. And so that concerns us. When we have fewer hours, it means fewer opportunities for people to get into the well, at their convenience to be able to access this information.

CAVANAUGH: Absolutely. And some library supporters here have been making the case that libraries actually are part of the public safety network because kids access them, they're in libraries instead of, perhaps, being other places where they could be vulnerable. That kind of safety net aspect, do you agree with that?

STEVENS: I totally agree with that. Of and of course, we are a safety net. We've always been a safety net for the younger people in our communities. But again, now more than ever, and particularly families where both parents are working, this is really an opportunity to insure that the kids are in a place where they can be comfortable, where they can be learning and growing, and where they can be socializing in a good way. And they can be safe.

CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Roberta Stevens, she's president of the American library association. That group is gonna be meeting here in San Diego next week for their midwinter meeting. And Roberta, what are you gonna be talking about at your meeting here in San Diego?

STEVENS: Well, a couple of things are going to be happening of we have, of course, a number of business meetings that are always scheduled at our midwinter meeting at the various parts of our organization, which is big 678 we have 16000 members and we expect at least 10000 will be in San Diego and probably more than that. But when we'll be doing is we've got some wonderful things planned. One is my presence program, and it features ted Dan son who is not only known from 30 years and television and much beloved for many of those roles that he has played including Sam Malone on cheers, which everyone knows, but also Becker, and he's in a lot of HBO shows now. But he's an ocean -- he's really an ocean conservation activist. And he's written a book about it, which will be published in a few months. And he's going to be talking with us about his experiences in advocating for the health of our oceans. We also have youth media awards which are always extremely popular. A lot of people know about our new bury award for a children's author. And also the Caldecott Award for children's illustrator. But there are other awards that are made, the Coretta Scott King Award for African American writer writing about positive African American experiences. And the Pura Belpre Award too. So that is going to be scheduled. I want to let you know that my cousin's program is Sunday, January 9th at 3:30, in the convention center, and the Youth Media Awards are gonna be on Monday at 7:45 AM.

CAVANAUGH: I don't want to interrupt you. I'm sorry, Roberta, but I looked over your program, and one of the things that you are gonna be discussing is how libraries are dealing with less. In other words, how they are fairing in this economy and getting by with reduced and budgets and so forth. What are some of the things that you've heard that libraries are actually doing to get by with less?

STEVENS: Well, they're doing a variety of things. Have been, one of the things I know that you've been talking about in the San Diego library and pairing libraries and cooing a kind of rolling brown out. But most libraries have really had no choice but to reduce staffing and to reduce hours, which again, has a wig impact on the public. Other things that occur is trying to make as much use as possible of the technologies to be as efficient as we can be. And we'll be doing a lot of talking at this conference about such services that we offer as E-books, which people can, in fact, down load from their home computers, and more and more libraries are making available books, not only in print, but making available E-books as well. So we're trying to extend our services so that even if we're closed, people will have access to, obviously, our catalogs, which they have for a long time, but also to services like the Ebooks. So we'll be talking about those things. We will also be having -- you know, we try to have some really good authors that we are features. We always do, and we've got a number of them in special programs including Richard Rhodes, and someone who's very popular with young people, Neil Gaiman, who's gonna be interviewed by Nancy pearl. So it's quite a wide variety of programs that are offered at the annual conference. But we do still also have very interesting programs at midwinter. A lot of times we're taking this opportunity to look at how we can extend our libraries' funding by advocacy in particular, and by -- in some instances, additional fundraising. But I want to talk a little bit if I could about the advocacy.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, please.

STEVENS: That's one of my initiatives. We have worked extensively within ALA to provide information to people on how to become an advocate for their library, and I have an initiate called our authors are advocates. And Neil Gaiman is in fact one of the advocates for libraries and he joins a number of others who are doing public service announcements for us, and are gonna work with us to do op-ed pieces, interviews, whatever we can do to really highlight the important role that libraries play in our societies. And they include David Baldacci, Sharon Draper who writes for young people, we have Brad Meltzer, who's popular the History Channel. And we also have Scott Turow and Sara Paretsky. So we have pursued a number of authors who have agreed to become library advocates. They're our natural allies.

CAVANAUGH: Absolutely. And the thing that I -- what you bring up triggers in my mind is if people listening want to become advocates for their library, what are some tips that they might possibly do?

STEVENS: Well, they -- one -- really a tremendous source of tips is to go to the I love website. So go to www.I love libraries, all one word,.org, and it's got a host of tips on how you can in fact become an effective advocate for your library. And we really encourage them, primarily, to work -- partner with their library, with the staff who are working in their library so that they are effectively strategizing on how to reach out to the people who control the funding to highlight and make sure they know what it means when you don't provides full resources for a library so that they can serve the individuals in the community. So many times the people who are the neediest people and who need the libraries the very most are the ones that are going to be harmed if a library does not have the materials and it not open for use.

CAVANAUGH: Now, we're all hoping and expecting libraries across the nation to weather this current economic storm and thrive in the future. But when -- what do you see as the library of the future? Will it always be a building? Or will only digital libraries exist and what do you see coming down the road.

STEVENS: Well, people like to say things are an either or proposition. But they're not an either or proposition. What it is, it's a blended situation. We're gonna be blended libraries. Blended libraries and blended staff working within them. You know, it will not just be expertise. The expertise is not just in print, but the expertise is in technology. And that's what we see with many of the new people coming out of library school and working in our libraries, they're bringing -- they've grownup with the digital experience, and they're bringing their expertise in the digital experience to reach out to their communities, whatever they may be, in the educational environment or in the local environment. And to really approach them in the ways that these individuals are used to getting their individuals. Of and it's a totally, totally different era than it was when I grew up in libraries of and that's why you can't say, a digital library, prints library, we're gonna probably continue to be both for a long time. For an institution where people say, well, what is the relevance of them, well, then I'm scratching my head, because I don't understand why even in this very tough time we're experiencing double digit increases in our usage. If that isn't an indication that we have changed and continue to be relevant to the people that we serve, then I don't know what is. But we are -- our libraries are over loaded with people. So it's -- instead of being a negative, this experience of the digital era has, in fact, been an opportunity for our growth and our expansion.

CAVANAUGH: I do want -- I want to thank you for taking out the time to speak to us today. Thank you so much.

STEVENS: You're certainly welcome, Maureen. It was a pleasure talking with you. And the public can come to the program at ALA. They can register if they'd like to.

CAVANAUGH: And I'll tell them where and when in just a minute. Roberta Stevens, president of the American library association. Thank you.

STEVENS: Thank you, bye-bye now.

CAVANAUGH: And the midwinter meeting starts January 7th. It runs through the tenth at the San Diego convention center. If you would like to comment, please go on-line, Days.