In my home state of Michigan yesterday, two public libraries in affluent neighborshoods were closed because their ballot items didn’t pass. It was heartbreaking because it wasn’t so much a reflection of the libraries themselves, but a reflection of city politics and politicians who used the libraries as pawns in their minor battles.
In many states, library budgets are being slashed on all levels. Whole state libraries are being closed, entire library systems dismantled, and staff members are told that they are being let go.
This isn’t news to you, I know. So yesterday, when I walked into my local library, I was irritated by their attitude. We’re talking about a library that charges $1 if a patron doesn’t have their library card. Not because they need the money, but because it’s an incovenience to the staff. When I asked to have my items renewed, I looked at one of the titles and said out loud “Oh crap!!!” To which the clerk replied, “Did you LOSE one of the LIBRARY BOOKS?!?!” What type of assumption is that? I said “Oh crap” because I had left it on the coffee table at home and had made a mental note to bring it with me.
My point? Nice is a cheap budget item. It doesn’t cost you anything. And I will tell you this – congratulations if your budget is secure, your library well-stocked, your patrons all well behaved and friendly – but our institutions are under threat and nice means a lot – now more than ever. I could go through a list of “best practices” but you know what they are. It’s the action and the doing that takes energy. And if you have staff members who aren’t friendly or enforce necessary policy in a rude way, then you need to stand up to them. You can stand up to them gently but you must stand up to them. That is hard, but it is needed. Nice is needed.
I hope that most of you escaped this election season intact and with political leaders who support your organizations. Whether you did or didn’t, I hope that you’ll make the commitment that no matter what, your library and staff will be dedicated to a culture dedicated to “nice” and the limitation of unnecessary and rigid policies.