I have a proposal, or a question, depending on how much thought and/or preparation has been expended regarding the impending doom overshadowing our library system.
Would it be possible to run the Central Library on a staff of volunteers if the community were able to muster enough support? I care less about the smaller branch libraries for the present, because most of them simply do not have the depth of resources available at the Central Library. It seems a logical choice for a unified attempt at volunteer staffing because of its central location and proximity to a major public transit hub. Plus, it could serve as a model for similar but smaller projects at the branch libraries.
Naturally, as this would be a rather complicated undertaking, I wish to enlist the support, or at least solicit the advice, of officials such as yourself who know how the library functions. I've bounced the idea around with various people, and several sub-projects have emerged as necessary:
1. Find someone or several people to coordinate library volunteers. Make available postcard forms with spaces for the names, phone numbers, and hours of availability of potential volunteers, to be mailed or given to said coordinator, who would keep a scheduling database and manage scheduling.
2. Enlist the support of librarians. It is, after all, a library.
3. Start a petition drive to put pressure on the Executive and Legislature to deal with the closings in a way that minimizes loss of materials (do you know if there will be any?) and downtime. The library system reaps obvious benefits (efficiency, knowledge, expedited upkeep, expansion, etc.) from having a professional staff and a budget with room for acquisition and other discretionary spending.
I realize that it may not be politically intelligent to attempt to run the Library system, or any particular branch, even, with volunteers, because it may encourage the Legislature to continue to slack off and may encourage the County Executive to continue to target the system for funding cuts. I believe, nonetheless, that the immediate harm done to the citizenry of this County, especially the poor, like myself, who often have little or no other recourse for research materials, computer access, educational opportunities, or just plain old entertainment, far outweighs the political problems this may create for the future re-professionalization of the library system. When the time comes that it is possible to re-incorporate the library system into the Erie County budget, we will just have to work as a community to see that it is done, and fire the executive and legislature if it is not. This region is simply too economically depressed to suffer any further deprivation.
Alternatively, I also ask your opinion on a smaller-scale attempt to staff the branch libraries with local volunteers, disregarding the Central Library. Perhaps it would be more politically valuable to do such a thing, since the real gem of the system would remain closed under such a plan--a glaring example of fiscal irresponsibility to keep pressure on the Legislature and Executive to re-professionalize the system. I dislike this plan primarily because I suspect that the manifold materials of the Central Library would remain locked in until the Library's budget was reinstated, completely unavailable for the length of the deficit. I prefer depth of resources to local convenience. This is, however, perhaps a more viable option, and maybe the Central Library could be staffed just enough to facilitate interlibrary loans, or some such reduction of services.
I write this with the sincere hope that something can be done. Call me naïve, call me an outsider (I'm from Alaska), call me what you will: I cannot sit by and watch this wonderful, friendly, yet-vibrant, stolidly dignified community lose yet another battle with its elected officials over an invaluable asset that belongs to every member. I hope you can help, Madam, or at the very least, direct me to someone who can. This is not only my plea: I write this on behalf of those who will not speak out but who will feel the burden of loss perhaps more poignantly than I. Please write back.
Marcus Gottsche *Contact information: Marcus Gottsche, 338 Bryant Street #2, Buffalo, NY 14222, (716) 903-2799 or (716) 886-9529*