Blogger Eva Mitnick

When Times are Tough, Children’s Librarians Get Tougher!

We all know it’s going to be a Hard Year.  Even as more folks rediscover the library — “what, you mean I can read books and watch DVDs for free??” — our budgets are being cut.  Libraries will have less money to buy books and other materials, to provide programming, and even to hire and maintain staff.

It’s a bad situation.  But like Michael Rosen’s bear hunters, we’re not scared!  We can’t go over it; we can’t go under it.  Oh no – we’ll have to go through it!  But it’s not so bad, really.  In fact, we have a golden opportunity to take a deep breath, look around, and then get back to basics.

Problem — less books:  We won’t be able to buy as many books and materials, and yes, it’s going to be frustrating and even downright heartbreaking to miss out on so many of the new titles being published.  We’ll have to use electronic sources to supplement our out-of-date nonfiction and we may not have enough copies of that hot book all the kids are asking for.  We will have to make tough choices about what to purchase.

Golden opportunity:  This is the perfect excuse to read or re-read some of those older books, perhaps those long-neglected Newberys or that popular fantasy series or even some old chestnuts.  We all have a long must-read list, but if you’re like me, you read the newest stuff first (must stay au courant, after all).  But if the new stuff isn’t streaming in due to a reduced budget, then it’s time to revisit all the fabulous books that have been sitting on your shelves all along.  And if you fall in love with a golden oldie, you’ll be able to booktalk it that much more effectively.

This is also a good time to assess your library collection.  Weed out the dross and creatively display and promote the great stuff that is left.  Your collection might be smaller and not quite new at the end of this year, but it will be a honed and well-used collection.

Problem — less money for programming:  It’s likely that our budgets for performers will be cut.  Sure, sometimes Friends money and other private funding sources can come to the rescue, but remember that these hard times have hit everyone.  There will simply be less money to go around.  No more magicians, no more professional puppeteers or musicians — how will you lure your young patrons to the library and entertain them once they’re there?

Golden opportunity:  There’s nothing like having to go back to basics to get those creative juices flowing!  Ask any old-timer about shoestring programming and you’ll get scads of ideas on How to Give Good Program on a budget.  Read frog books, booktalk some origami books, help kids make and decorate origami jumping frogs — and then have a jumping frog contest!  Invite your local firefighters to the library — they can read some books, talk about fire safety, and let you try on their 40-lb uniforms and equipment.  Kids and parents alike will be thrilled and it won’t cost you a dime.  And don’t forget good old-fashioned story times and puppet shows.  There are plenty of books and resources out there — no one needs to reinvent the wheel.  And it doesn’t need to take huge amounts of time and effort, either. 

Instead of running around like Chicken Little, worrying that the sky is about to fall, we can be brave and intrepid bear hunters, swishing through tall grass and splashing through the mud.  Revel in overcoming adversity!  Times are tough and getting tougher, but our libraries are still full of amazing books and (most importantly) amazing Children’s Librarians.

To inspire you, here is the ever-effervescent Michael Rosen himself!


  1. Teresa Walls

    Thanks, Eva. I appreciate your optimism and practical advice.

  2. Susan Patron

    This post is all about having ingenuity, courage, a willingness to work hard, and a great heart. If Obama were to read it, he’d want you in his cabinet.

  3. Annie Linney

    You forgot to finish this article.

    Problem – less money for staff:

    Golden opportunity: ?

    (You mention three problems in your opening paragraph and only address two of them.)

  4. Teresa Walls

    A golden opportunity for less money for staff is to discover more ways to share resources with other local institutions, organizations and interested citizens.

  5. emitnick Post author

    You’re right, Annie – and thanks to Teresa for helping me out with that! Yes, partnerships with community organizations is a super way to stretch resources and to take a bit of the burden (especially for programming) off the staff. Museums often have a mandate to do community outreach and will sometimes provide free programming, and organizations that serve children and their families are usually eager to share resources (speakers, brochures, etc).
    Because less staff often means more time simply keeping the library open and thus less time for programming, getting back to basics becomes all the more important, as does focusing on what is most needed. If you have to choose between lapsit and preschool storytimes, which will you offer? If you can now only offer one school-aged program a month instead of your usual three or four, what will make the most impact with the least amount of time and money?
    Thanks, Susan – now I’m waiting for that call from the White House!

  6. Pingback: Librarians: My Heroes | Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, a Reading Tub Blog

  7. Deb Wesch

    I enjoyed the Bear Hunt with Rosen. We do need to be creative to get kids into the library.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *