Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Holes, how do you fill the holes, and who makes them

I blame budgets, Library budget reality - not enough money and something has to give. Often it is the staffing of the library, and then the hours and the days. So I was hired to work here at McNeil Island in 1998 and there were three Full Time Employees (FTE) one librarian and two paraprofessionals, open over sixty hours a week providing service the the inmates and staff. Then the Governor decided that the Washington State Library must die - to save some dollars or the internet had arrived and the State Library was no longer needed. So he cut the library out of his budget and snarled at the State Librarian who hissed back and arched her back. Okay, maybe not that simple but I was in the trenches not under the center of the State Capital.

The ensuing political fight made the WSL a part of the Office of the Secretary of State (of Washington) and still under limited budget because the Governor still hated us (for whatever reason). The Secretary of State and his henchmen came to visit the Library and see what kind of creature they had adopted, they looked and questioned and were briefed and looked and questioned and were briefed. Then they made some tough, hard decisions - because there wasn't any money in the Library, it had too many employees, books, services and couldn't be folded up and carried around lightly --- so being from timber cutting country they took a chainsaw to it and pruned wildly but with purpose. For political reality shakeup they cut all services to government employees, added services (at the Library) for all citizens of the State, weeded all the frivolous books from the collections, and all the staff books and serials from the branch collections (hoping to get the other Agencies to cough up money for services they once had for free). Although the branch libraries at the mental hospitals and prisons had excellent hours and circulation and were important - they aren't very visible and so they chain saw hit there deeply, first cut one staff, then on another swing cut it all down to one staff per branch. Not Michael Angelo's David but still looks like a bear, and functions like a State Library under constraint. Where I was, the branch was open about twenty hours a week with one full time staff and I was out of a job - after taking a half-time position under the first cut.

I survived, was given a full time position at the State Library down the highway and daily commute, the branches adjusted, the State Library built up a stronger alliance with people that love libraries and use them. By hanging around and long enough the position at McNeil Island opened again and I was allowed to take it, get more training and personally things were good, the State Library is still limping along - still feels under attack - PTSD anyone? Ten years after I was originally hired, there is still a branch library at McNeil Island and providing services to the inmates but not the staff.

Today I took a day off, to go and interview for a position at a public library - where I know they have struggles with budgets, with unions, with management, with City fathers on budget matters - and they still provide a wonderful service to the public, and my inmate patrons through Interlibrary Loan (ILL). Tomorrow I will walk to the dock, take the ferry ride to the island, open my branch and get back to important and not very visible library work with a underserved population - certainly not politically powerful, felons can't vote. If I took work at another library someone would eventually fill the hole, but not soon enough. There isn't an immediate replacement system for workers, only for executives... but I sleep well at night knowing I am needed. A square peg in a round hole is better than nothing in the hole to tie onto.

1 comment:

Breda said...

WmEarl - you are a wonderful writer!