As academic librarians return from what was summer break on balmy beaches for some and uninterrupted work for others, it bears thinking about possible outlooks for the new school year. For many in academe, the return to class is marked by concern over the “melt” of student admissions over the summer and the poor financial situation of the world generally. In searching Technorati, talking with colleagues and observing librarians, I don't sense the same sort of muffled panic as our friends in academic affairs may be feeling with regard to student retention and availability of resources. Certainly, there has been some curtailing of building projects and other heuristic examples of difficult times, but all-in-all academic librarians and their parent institutions have not been hit too hard by the financial meltdown. As librarians emerge from the long dark night of concerns over the prophesied demise of the profession with the general feeling that Internet searching might not be the death knell some folks conceptualized it as, our future is pretty bright compared to some professions despite our pervasive and profound public relations problem (I claim no researched basis for the first part of that sentence, only a general supposition).
My heart then goes out to our colleagues in public libraries whom have had funding sources decimated, their services cut at a time of very significant upturns in door counts, computer usage and other metrics (see http://articles.lancasteronline.com/local/4/240212 for one example of many articles on the subject). Glenn Miller, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Library Association, has been filling many of our inboxes with some pretty dire news and calls to action over the summer. (A few of them had a fantastic quote, “libraries are the emergency room for the unemployed.”) The initial proposed cuts were indeed very dire. Over time, through the stalwart efforts of Glenn and many other librarians and library supporters in the state, the library community has won some minor gains. That is not to say the work is all done by any means. Governor Rendell announced today that a temporary budget to facilitate paying state workers is going into place (see the article at http://bit.ly/O3v27), but the main contentions have yet to be resolved. Those who have heeded the calls to action need to continue to do so and those of us (like me) who could spend more time sending messages to our representatives should. In the final analysis, however, PaLA might not get the even funding it is pushing. So, yes, things could get even worse.
As we enter the new semester, if you are feeling fairly confident in academic libraries and are considering new projects or a new outlook for the new school year, then consider working with your public librarian or library systems. Public/academic cooperation is probably under-researched, underused and under-valued and even if one makes the argument that it is not; those are fellow librarians stranded on the financial woe floe and it behooves us to help ourselves and the profession in the short term while some brilliant and deft mind solves our crippling PR issues in the long term. Sound off in the comments if anyone has a great project or another way to help public libraries from an academic standpoint.