Advocacy, Public Dollars, & Librarian Alter-Egos

Barbara Gordon, LibrarianOn November 2, members of our community will vote on whether the Lawrence Public Library is going to receive an $18 mil. facelift. As the community responds to news articles in the Lawrence Journal World, as well as other local news outlets, it’s pretty fascinating to see the many remaining perceptions about what a public library actually does. Many commenters feel that it’s a waste to spend money on anything other than books, and on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, others feel that books are becoming obsolete and we should be investing in server storage rather than bricks and mortar renovations.  “What about the public access computers, children’s room, and community meeting spaces?” I want to yell!  But yelling probably isn’t a good idea.

One thing that has frustrated me throughout this campaign is our library’s very literal approach to our policy not to endorse political positions.  While working at the library, we’re not allowed to wear pins, t-shirts, or any other promotional regalia that favor particular candidates or issues.  This includes the library vote.  So if a patron comes in to ask for one of the “Vote Yes” signs she’s seen in her neighbor’s yard?  Too bad!  We’re not allowed to give those out at the library.

At first, this seemed completely insane to me!  We’re trying to get the community to vote for a renovation, yet we’re not allowed to say so??  That made me hit my forehead repeatedly several times about the passive, backwards ways of many of we librarians.  But I’ve since come to recognize that it’s a necessary position — community members have, indeed, questioned whether public dollars are being spent on this campaign, and lawsuits have been brought to libraries in the past for ethical breaches of this nature.

So we’ve come up with lots of creative work-arounds!  A separate citizens’ entity, called “Vote Yes for the Library,” has formed to raise private donations to campaign on behalf of the library.  Are many of its members also librarians?  Yes… but the important distinction is that it operates on private dollars, and all the work is completely volunteer, done in the off-duty hours when they’re not getting paid by the library.  Can I just say that I love the private citizen / librarian dichotomy? It makes me feel like I have an alter ego when I go to work.

We also have plenty of purely informational material posted at the library, and we’re allowed to field questions and direct patrons to “” when they’re asking about things like how to get a “Vote Yes” sign.  On the Lawrence Public Library facebook page, we’ve also tried to steer some traffic over to the LPL Foundation page, which is technically private and therefore authorized to be as promotional as it wants to be.

Finally, here in my blog, I’m a private citizen!  So I can wholeheartedly say:  Vote YES for the Lawrence Public Library on November 2!


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