So long, farewell, amen
Posted by Peter Bromberg
This week I came to the end of two wonderful chapters in my life.
First, this was my final week of employment at the South Jersey Regional Library Cooperative (SJRLC), where I have enjoyed working for the past nine years. And second, this is my final post at the Library Garden blog, where I have had the pleasure of writing for the past four years. Both departures are bittersweet, filled with sadness and loss, but also mixed with excitement for the what lies ahead. On Monday, August 2nd I will begin as Assistant Director at the Princeton Public Library, and at the same time I will launch a new blog at http://blog.peterbromberg.com.
I would like use this opportunity, my final post at LG, to do something that I have never done before. I am going to break my cardinal Library Garden blogging rule and write a post that is intended primarily for the New Jersey library community. If you are not a member of the NJ library community I encourage and invite you to read on, as the topic I’m about to address has broader implications for librarianship. But again, I am writing directly to you my NJ colleagues.
CONGRATULATIONS, I’M SORRY
Those of you in NJ know that we have just emerged from a partially successful four-month advocacy campaign to restore state funding for library services. In March we received devastating news that the Governor had slashed library funding 74% in his proposed budget, effectively putting an end to vital library services including delivery, interlibrary loan, shared full-text databases, and the New Jersey Library Network including the four Regional Library Cooperatives. In late June, after an advocacy campaign that generated tens of thousands of letters of support, we learned that much of the funding was restored, and many services would be saved. Unfortunately, as in other states (including Colorado, Massachusetts and Illinois), the Cooperative system — a system in place for nearly 25 years — is being downsized, as the State Librarian has made a decision to consolidate the four Cooperatives into one.
I have been approached by a number of people who have asked me to either write or co-write an article on the phenomena of merging and downsizing regional library cooperatives. We’ve seen a similar pattern with many former OCLC affiliates like Palinet and Solinet merging into Lyrasis. What is the impact of merging library cooperatives — of effectively de-regionalizing? Are regional library cooperatives even necessary in this day and age?
I’ve been pondering the requests to write about these questions over the past few weeks as I clean out my office, thinking about the different angles and struggling to clarify for myself the core questions to be explored. Part of my struggle is this: I place great personal value on transparency, dialogue, and fact-based decision making, and have been feeling a great deal of disappointment in not seeing those values honored or expressed to the extent I would have liked as the decision to consolidate the Cooperatives was made. It distressed me that a very important decision with far-reaching ramifications was made so quickly and with what I regarded as little input from the library community. (The State Librarian put together an Advisory Committee to advise on budget/spending priorities but the Committee was not asked to give input on the consolidation of the Regions– a decision that had been made before the Committee convened on July 6th.) I resisted writing anything because I was aware that my own disappointment in the process, and my very personal and emotional connection to the results of the process, were making it difficult for me to think clearly or objectively about the issues.
BRIDGING THE PAST AND THE FUTURE
For weeks I have struggled to get clarity on my mix of emotions, experience them, and release them, in an attempt to get to a place where I could reasonably address the broader topic of the value of libraries cooperatives in 2010 in a relatively dispassionate manner.
And then, a bit of providence.
As I cleaned my office, finding all manner of interesting artifacts, I came across this document, a record of a focus group convened for the State Librarian in 1992 to explore the challenges then facing the New Jersey Library Network, then only six years old. The questions got directly to the heart of the matter: Are Regional Library Cooperatives of value, and if so, how and to what degree? Seeing these questions and answers helped me get to the heart of my questions and my concerns.
What, in 2010, is the value of having a Cooperative system? With the consolidation of our Regional Cooperatives, something is gained and something is lost. Looking forward, it is important that the New Jersey library community have an open and informed dialogue that addresses our reduced resources, and determines which spending priorities will most benefit the libraries, and hence the library customers. With regard to the consolidation of the Regions, I think it would be fruitful to ask:
- What has been gained by consolidation, and how do we maximize those gains?
- What has been lost due to consolidation, and how do we mitigate those losses?
As I write this I am at a point in my life of great change. At this moment I stand at a personal and professional juncture between my past experiences, accomplishments, and failures, and my future challenges, struggles, and (hopefully) victories and successes. Perhaps it is because I am straddling this brief period of time, bridging what was and what is about to be, that I have a desire to build another bridge.
VALUE OF COOPERATIVE SERVICES: TAKE THE SURVEY! (open until Sept 15!)
The focus group document from 1992 provides a useful historical context for exploring the questions we are struggling with in 2010. In the interest of furthering the dialogue — the open dialogue I firmly believe we must have to make wise and fiscally sound decisions that will strengthen our libraries and our library community — I have created a survey modeled after the 1992 focus group. It is a bridge between then and now, between where we were and where we need to be. I invite all members of the NJ library community to participate in whole or in part. The direct survey link is: http://spreadsheets.google.com/viewform?formkey=dG4zYmx1SEM1VGV4ZFFGdVBodHp4U1E6MQ. Note: Extended until Sept 15! the survey closes on August 9th.
There are 12 questions, and all are essay/short answer. You may be as brief or as detailed as the spirit moves. Answer one question, or answer all of them. I appreciate any and all feedback that you can provide. It is only by generating this information that we can begin to have an informed and productive discussion regarding the future of Cooperative service for NJ libraries, and the best use of our increasingly limited state resources. I will use the survey information to inform my future writings, and will also share the results with the State Advisory Committee, the State Library, Infolink, and the New Jersey library community.
It is of course difficult to discuss resource allocation without knowing what the resources are, so for your convenience I am providing links to the FY2010 and FY2011 budget allocations from the state:
- FY2010 Budget Allocation for NJ Library Services
- FY2011 Budget Allocation for NJ Library Services
- All State Advisory Committee (includes comparative budget data)
SO LONG, FAREWELL, AMEN
I’d like to conclude this post by thanking my co-writers at Library Garden, especially Janie Hermann and Robert Lackie who were instrumental in founding and building this blog along with me. It has been an honor to write with all of you. I value the relationships that we have formed and know that we will continue to enjoy many adventures together.
I would also like to thank my co-workers at SJRLC: Sandi Augello, Beth Cackowski, Anne Marie Hering, and most especially Karen Hyman who has offered so much support and wisdom and from whom I have learned so very much. You are all my family, and it has been an honor and a pleasure to work so closely with you.
Finally, I’d like to thank the readers of Library Garden for any eyeball time you’ve given my posts over the past four years. If you’ve enjoyed or been otherwise engaged by what you’ve read, please join me as I continue the conversation at blog.peterbromberg.com. And I will join you as I transition from Library Garden writer to faithful Library Garden reader.
Links to documents referenced
- Survey link (closes 9/15 closes 8/9)
- FY2010 NJ funding for libraries
- FY2011 NJ funding for libraries
- 1992 Focus Group
- Statewide Advisory Committee (with additional budget information) (pdf version)