Help with Close The Libraries / Protect Library Workers website and advocacy

Hey all - I’ve been working on shifting the focus of closethelibraries.org to a more universal push for protecting library workers, as we’re moving into a period of increasing layoffs and furloughs. I could use some help with workshopping the demands and language used in templates for emails, calls, tweets, etc.

What do you think, in your words, are the reasons why we need to stop these layoffs and furloughs? How is this disproportionately affecting working class and non-white folks? What will the long-term consequences be? What other approaches or strategies are helpful here that differ from efforts around #closethelibraries?

Any help is appreciated, thanks for your support!

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My immediate thought is that libraries and librarians are vital in the aftermath of a catastrophe. We’ll be where people go to get their unemployment applications in or apply to new jobs or work on new resumes, we’ll be outlets for official municipal information (ideally, because it seems some libraries are being forbidden to talk about corona right now, but I can’t imagine that continuing with post-isolation recovery efforts), people will use the space for organizing or socializing, we’ll see an increase in materials circulation because of information needs (and probably also new hobbies having been developed in quarantine), and people will desperately want someone to talk to. We can’t do any of that if we’re all sick ourselves, or shuttered by our local governments…or frankly, made mad enough to leave our jobs. I always say that when the social safety net fails, we’re the tarp underneath that catches everything that falls through, and our social safety nets, what are left of them, are strained and full to bursting right now.

It might be persuasive to cite local and national statistics on how libraries create on average x dollar amount value for every y dollars invested in them, and note that we’re one of the few public institutions left to hold high levels of user trust. I suspect people are also gaining more awareness of privacy issues brought on by the pandemic because of the topics being covered in the news, so arguing that libraries do and always have stringently guarded patron privacy might be an argument to consider as having more value to the general audience now.

I also think librarians of all stripes should be keeping an eye on the discourse going on right now around keeping the USPS from being privatized: what people are saying for and against, what arguments seem to work and what don’t, how Congress reacts to the discourse. I feel like the move to privatize the post office, if successful, could end up being the trial run for tactics to do the same to libraries.

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My initial thoughts:

  1. You want to be remembered as someone who did the right thing for your employees when it mattered.
  2. If you’re not paying people, they’re going to have to accept other jobs. That likely puts them and their loved ones at risk, PLUS the chance that they might decide to stay at that other job when all of this is over, or seek something better. How are you going to reopen if you have too much staff attrition?
  1. I’ve read that one of the reasons librarianship stays so white, middle-class, and female is the “you need a master’s degree” / “we’re not paying you very much” issue exacerbated by the way that so many people are forced to take part-time library work just to get a foot in the door. It takes quite a bit of privilege to make it through those things. How much worse if now we’re a “you need a master’s degree” / “we’re not paying you very much” / “we’re not going to pay you AT ALL during a crisis” profession?
  1. It seems likely we’ll lose employees. Maybe to COVID-19 or the catastrophes it caused in their lives when we weren’t supporting them; maybe to other jobs. Institutional knowledge in the library will take a big hit and our level of service will drop right when we’re most in demand, during recovery from this crisis. Plus everyone who does come back to work will be super stressed out and morale will suck, so I bet we lose even more employees to that over the slightly longer term.
  2. I’d guess that librarianship would end up skewing even harder toward middle-class white women who aren’t the primary breadwinner for their household.
  3. We’ll lose patrons and support. If we can’t offer the level of service we used to (because of lost experience / institutional knowledge, understaffing, morale hits, etc.) plus it becomes even harder for people of color to see themselves represented in our spaces… lots of people either won’t feel welcome anymore or just won’t bother to use us or support us anymore.
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What do you think, in your words, are the reasons why we need to stop these layoffs and furloughs?
Many library budgets are currently in place until the end of the fiscal year and librarians can focus on digital outreach to help communities better connect to their online services. Layoffs and furloughs at this point are not only unnecessarily cruel when the money has been put in place for them, but it also takes away from their important work in preparing library communities to learn, connect, and thrive during COVID-19 quarantines. Libraries that layoff now will have communities that are less prepared and competitive in the next wave of this outbreak and subsequent social distancing orders.

How is this disproportionately affecting working class and non-white folks?
Libraries notoriously advocate marginalized populations. Their work may be even more crucial than ever before as libraries strive to connect ongoing virtual programming, free media access, and tech support to their communities. Libraries working with working class people and people of color may have stronger reputations than many other organizations from their work and relationship building with those communities’ organizations. They can more reliable and efficiently help spread much needed health information and learning resources during these unprecedented times of social displacement.

What will the long-term consequences be?
Good people will leave the profession because they will be paid to work elsewhere. Library communities will lose the value and expertise of the human capital each library possesses. The investment in training, education, and on-boarding will be monumental in replacing those that cannot hold out until the layoff is over.

What other approaches or strategies are helpful here that differ from efforts around #closethelibraries?
Thank you for your work!

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Thanks to everyone who added their thoughts to this thread, and sorry for not circling back before – it’s been a rocky couple of days in terms of trying to pivot the messaging around #closethelibraries to reflect what’s been going on right now.

@MarisaR, @emily.mitchell, and @samhelmick.library - I used some of your talking points to craft a recommendation I’m trying to get the Massachusetts Library Association to endorse. I don’t know that I can quantify how much good it will do, but I think it’s important to push for things similar to SLA’s statement that came out at the end of last month in attempt to get some more attention paid to this by, y’know, the associations and orgs that should be advocating on our behalf.

So, I don’t know if it’s worth trying to talk about it in this thread or to broaden this out to the larger final project brainstorming (I’m leaning towards the latter), but I’ve been a little stuck on what direction to take closethelibraries.org/libraryworkers.net into since I feel on the one hand, there’s a very strong need for directors to understand the financial and health/safety issues of the moment and on the other, most of the people coming to the website are rank & file staff members trying to do something about their crappy leadership.

Anyway, if anyone has any thoughts, feel free to stick 'em here!