March 2nd, 2010

running clyde

Full moon but wintry economics

Makes it feel like Wednesday already. This morning before dawn the moon shone into my window through the trees and it was like a painted picture in a children's book maybe. Slate blue sky and big yellow moon setting behind the winter branches, it was almost surreal in the sharp edges and simple forms of the image.

One of the monthly details of my work is maintaining the "new books" selection. As new titles are added to the collection, we mark them with blue stickers on the spine that just say "New" and put them on a special group of shelves near the entrance so library users can browse the latest additions. The blue label reminds everyone to return these books to the special display after they are checked out. Of course, at some point, they have to move into the regular collection. The blue label is peeled off, the location in the computerized catalog changed appropriately, and the book is shifted to the normal place for its subject matter. This happened rather haphazardly until I took over the process.

Now I generate a report from the catalog itself each month, listing the titles that have been on the "new books" shelf for six months or more, so I can pull those books and switch them over to the regular stacks. If a book on the list is checked out, I place a hold request for it so that it will be given to me when it is returned and I can process it then. This works more reliably, provided I remember to run the report at the first of the month. Sometimes things are busy and I let it slip. For a while last spring I was getting behind and the lists of books to pull got longer and longer. Our circulation manager even asked me when I was going to get around to it because the shelves were overflowing. Fortunately I was able to catch up.

Today's list seemed excessively short. Just two pages, in fact. Last month's list was similar. Then it dawned on me that we began to feel the budget pinch of the economic slowdown just about six to eight months ago. Fewer titles have been purchased, in part because the state has been very tardy in paying us our legislated percentage from state revenue. The check for 2008/09 didn't arrive until well after the end of the fiscal year. The number of new books purchased has been accordingly smaller. Because we have a private non-profit trust fund based on the original legacy of the founder, it has been somewhat easier for us than for the libraries in neighboring communities, though. We have had no staffing or hours reductions, for instance, and have continued to offer our regular education and entertainment programs. Other communities have not fared as well.

Another sign of the tight economy seems to be a boom in interlibrary loan requests. We are lending more books to other libraries, perhaps twice as many per month as we were before the meltdown. We are also borrowing more, as people come to us requesting books that they probably would have just purchased for themselves two years ago. In spite of the claims that the economy has "turned the corner" I don't see much evidence of it yet. The newspapers are still full of foreclosure notices, there are virtually no help wanted ads in those papers or anywhere else, and we continue to see large numbers of people in the library asking for help with resume writing, faxing applications, and using the internet to hunt for and apply for work. Ironically, I also note that bank executives have once again reaped massive (I'd call them obscene) financial bonuses for their work in clear-cutting the economy and sucking all the loose money into their own privileged pockets. And, in spite of all of that, people in this area continue to resist any shakeup in the familiar status quo of politics. Any suggestion that a reform is in order produces shrieks of "socialism, socialism" and in a frightening number of cases, mutterings about armed resistance. I'm not inclined to optimism about the intelligence or survivability of human society right now.

The very same users who come into the library to read a newspaper because they don't want to spend the money for it themselves, who use our internet connections and books that were purchased with community funding are "utterly opposed" to socialism. Yet what is a public library other than a socialist institution? Pooled resources are used to build and maintain a common facility for the benefit and use of everyone in the community. Don't try to point that out to them, though, unless you want a huge display of histrionics to ensue.

EDIT: As it turns out, this post is my 2000th. I have been posting to LJ for six years this month, and have received nearly 30000 comments. Thanks to everyone who has participated in the conversation, for your encouragement, enlightenments, and yes, your disagreements and criticisms as well.