July 1999

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Is Your Library A Culture Source?

by Edwin M. Field, NYSALB Director, TRUSTEE Editor

July 1999 issue of Trustee

We have a serious identity problem! Your library and your library system possibly share the very same difficulty and apparently the roots of the problem run deep. It’s not simply about library users but a “people attitude” which reaches into all segments of our community. In this instance, attitude and understanding about the library’s position in one’s community has actually affected a funding source which for the vast majority of libraries provides a portion of its operational life blood.


Here is how the problem was discovered. All of the libraries in one particular New York State county have wisely gotten together in order to jointly seek additional outside funding. A simple concept: “In union there is strength.” All of the money raised by the organization is used to install new computer equipment and to add to and improve the existing electronic doorway access capabilities of each of the county’s libraries.


As part of the effort to secure funding, the group applied for an EDAP grant. The grant money is funneled to the county from the state. It was properly applied for in a timely fashion and subsequently the organization was turned down as a recipient. Membership of the all-county library organization requested an explanation for the denial.  In response, two members of the county’s administrative staff attended a meeting to provide the explanation.


There was, the county representatives pointed out, grant criteria. It appears that one of the main reasons for grant refusal and the drawback affecting libraries (in the eyes of the county representatives) was the inability of libraries to serve as a “cultural attraction.”  The library organization’s application was denied, according to the county representatives, because it did not meet this eligibility criteria. “Libraries,” also pointed out the county representatives, “will not create a tourist attraction.”


Apparently we have failed! We have neglected to clearly explain to the people and the elected representatives in our communities the continuing cultural opportunities available in our libraries year round. We have not alerted the residents in our communities and our elected representatives to the myriad of program offerings, learning options and other activities available in our libraries. These programs are not only structured for local residents but also for tourists who visit our communities. Lists of cultural happenings could be detailed on this page; however, as a trustee you know best the options and talking points offered by your hometown library.


Actually, it is not startling to learn that many believe that libraries are not cultural resources. As library trustees, in to many instances, we do not spend enough time or effort “blowing our own horn.” Some may feel that this is not necessary. The building with the big name plate “LIBRARY”should be sufficient notice of the options and opportunities within. The fact is a library must be treated like a business. We seek out customers (borrowers), look for funding (grants, governmental aid, etc.) and retell the library story (library marketing) to remain operationally viable. We must tell our story to the various community segments including elected representatives so that they fully understand the importance of libraries as a community asset, a cultural institution and a potential tourist site. Most important, the story must be told over and over and over again so that no one one can claim they are not aware of a library as a cultural institution.

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