Times of Drastic Change

I had lunch last week with Debra Futa, the Assistant Director of SJCPL, my former library. I enjoyed it because we got to “geek out” a bit with discussions of library processes, workflows, etc. The library has a some building projects going full steam ahead, including a brand new branch library in a few years. We also talked about the budget wors facing many Indiana libraries. Deb shared with me part of a talk she gave at the library’s staff day. I found it inspiring and straight-forward. It might be helpful to other Indiana librarians. She’s graciously allowed me to publish an excerpt here (with some emphasis from yours truly in bold). After describing the many successes of the library system in the past few years, Deb said:

“…We’re also looking at something new – less money.  For 20 years, we had the funds to expand and to prosper.  We had plenty of new materials, we had lots of programs, we did outreach, we attended conferences, we hired new employees.  By the end of 2010, we’ll have 1.6 million dollars less to do all of those things.  And operating costs continue to rise.

We’ve always changed but this is change of a new sort.  Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Eric Hoffer said,  “In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future.  The learned find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

Well we are nothing if not learners.  We’ve spent much of the past 10 years learning to embrace the changes in libraries – constant new technology, Web 2.0, roving reference, self-service.  But this – this may be the hardest change yet because it feels like we’re moving backward instead of forward.  The real challenge is to learn (there’s that word again) how to prosper and retrench at the same time.  And that’s a difficult thing for all of us.

The word Learn is the first word of our Vision statement of Learn – Discover  – Enjoy. 

So what kinds of things are involved in this new learning? We’ll need to learn how to do our work with fewer resources. We’ll need to learn what programs are most effective and make changes accordingly. We’ll learn how to operate 10 buildings for about the same cost as 9 buildings.

And we’ll learn how to work in a new reality where we don’t have as much of everything.

Although we’re cutting back, there are also things we’re committed to doing:


  • We are committed to finding a salary increase for employees next year.
  • We are committed to reducing employee numbers through attrition, not layoffs
  • We are committed to not reducing scheduled hours – if your job description says 20 hours, we’re committed to maintaining that unless you voluntarily reduce it.

These are not promises – the amount of our tax revenue is out of our control – but we have committed to finding ways to do these things

This year’s learning is all about how we’re going to accept and embrace a new reality.  We have until the end of 2010 to trim 1.6 million dollars from our operating budget and we’ll also need approximately 9 full time equivalent positions just to open German Township.

Can we do it?  Absolutely.  It’s why we’re starting early.  Taking into account the already vacant positions and the positions we know we’ll lose this year, we’re halfway there in staffing costs.

We are a terrific library and you are a terrific group of people.  Our staff surveys have always shown that one of the best things about coming to work at SJCPL is the people – our co-workers.

We’re all in this together and I hope we’re all working toward the same goals.  We want to continue to provide innovative, excellent service to our patrons and create a welcoming workplace.  Our shared purpose is still reflected in our mission and vision statements:  Learn  Discover  Enjoy.  That vision translates not just to our public but also to ourselves.”

This is hard, serious stuff. I was at SJCPL for almost 15 years – in a time when we had lots of funding, loads of technology and great opportunities so it is especially sobering for me. I wish the folks there and in all Indiana librarie the very best as they find their way through these times.