Times are tough. I don’t have to tell anyone this; it’s kind of an inescapable fact. Libraries all over the country are facing major budget cuts, which affects staffing levels and the items libraries can purchase for you, the customer. It affects the hours the library can remain open to serve you- it even affects whether the library will be open at all.

Libraries need your help. And there are lots of ways you can help out!

  • Donate books: In many places, materials budgets are being slashed, which means fewer books are making it out onto the shelves. This also means that librarians and collection development staff are having to choose which items they will purchase very carefully. Often, the materials that will be purchased are the ones with the highest circulation rates: bestsellers. This means that some of the lesser-known gems might be overlooked. Depending on the policy of the library and the condition of the book, they may be able to add your book. If a book isn’t added to the collection, chances are good that they could add it to a sale shelf or give it to the Friends of the Library to sell.
  • Donate money: It doesn’t take a lot of money to help the library buy a few new books. Many library vendors allow libraries to purchase books through them at reduced prices because of bulk purchasing. A few dollars can help buy a new children’s book. For example, most board books are $5 or less. Donations can also be used to help fund programs that benefit the community. Rare is the library that will refuse a cash donation. A word of note: donations given without stipulation are best, as they allow library staff to apply the donation to an area that needs it most.
  • Donate your time: With budget cuts come staffing cuts, which means that public libraries have to rely heavily on volunteers to help out. Sometimes there are fantastic projects you can help out with, but sometimes, the tasks aren’t fun. However, each task is guaranteed to allow the library to provide the best service possible to the community. And if you have special skills, the library may be able to put them to use!
  • Buy used books from the library: Most libraries have a sale shelf, in the case of some big libraries, a sale store. Whether run by the library or the Friends of the Library, proceeds from these sales help fund materials and programs at the library.
  • Join your Friends of the Library: Most Friends organizations require a membership fee, but that fee is used to benefit the library. Libraries depend on their Friends to advocate them and support them in the community, and they are an essential part of any public library.
  • Contact your city council or local government to let them know how much you love the library. In times of economic uncertainty, it’s important to let officials know that you consider the library to be an essential public service. It only takes a few minutes to send an email to council members in support of the library.
  • Use the library!  The very best way to help the library is to use it. Libraries offer so much more than books: there are audio books, music CDs, movies and TV shows on DVD, computers for public use, and programs for the whole community. There is literally something for everyone. Overwhelmed by all there is to choose from? Or does the library not have what you’re looking for? Ask a staff member! Staff know the library and the collection, and can help. If they don’t have the item, ask if they offer Inter-library loan services. Some libraries off Inter-library loans for free; others charge a small fee. If the book isn’t needed urgently, even an Inter-library loan fee is less expensive than purchasing the book.

Of course, not every library has the same needs, and you’ll want to check with your library staff before making a decision or donation (this is especially true with regard to materials). I hope you’ll all consider helping your local library in any way you can during these tough times!