After all of the recent discussion regarding libraries, unemployment offices, and even postal services, I thought it might be best to address some of those issues here at the library blog.
On February 17 the new director of Iowa Workforce Development proposed that the agency close thirty-nine of its offices and involve public libraries in providing services to job seekers. IWD did not discuss this proposal with the State Library before going public with it.
A short time later, IWD proposed more fully developing some existing partnerships that were ongoing with 100 libraries statewide. Spencer Public Library was not one of these libraries. In discussions through the State Library, IWD assured the library community that they were "committed to providing training and resources to the libraries to assist with heightened traffic. We recognize that a vast majority of current patrons seek out library staff for help with online services." Libraries were referred to as "partners" in this new endeavor. The common ground for both groups was to help the citizens of Iowa as best we could in the current economic climate.
Several points were immediately brought to the attention of IWD by representatives of the State Library. I list them here as quoted from the State Library of Iowa website:
1. Iowa public libraries are governed by local boards of trustees, who are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the city council. [They are NOT elected]. The library director reports to the local board of trustees. The director and board have sole authority to decide what programs and services the library will provide.
2. Iowa public libraries are heavily used: 2/3 of all Iowans have a public library card; there were 19.6 million visits to public libraries last year (54,600 per day); 29.4 million items were checked out last year (81,700 per day).
3. The Enrich Iowa appropriation is the only state funding which goes directly to libraries. FY11 funding was cut by 18.2%, and Gov. Branstad's proposal for FY12 adds an additional 24.8% cut. Local public libraries receive only about 3% of their total funding from the state, and the rest comes from city and county government.
4. Any plan that assumes that services now provided by the IWD offices scheduled for closure would be provided by libraries in a "self directed manner" is not realistic. While it may be tempting to think that job seekers simply walk into public libraries, sit down at computers and take care of their job seeking needs with little or no intervention from staff - we know that is not the way it happens in the real world. The "Opportunity for All" study about use of internet computers in public libraries found that 67% of public library computer users ask for assistance.
Iowa libraries also expressed concerns that they might not have enough staff to provide additional services. Concerns were raised about the appropriateness of a local government agency taking on services which have been cut by a state agency. On the positive side, libraries also saw it as an "opportunity to demonstrate that libraries provide essential services which are provided with very little state funding." (quote from State Library website) . In addition, libraries across the state that chose to work with IWD were reporting numerous problems, including lack of training, lack of technical support, and a plethora of confusing and contradictory statements from their local IWD representatives. Spencer had been told that repair of IWD's computer in the library would be the responsibility of SPL, and the staff would receive no training.
Spencer is very fortunate that we still have an IWD office in town. Like so many of us that are publicly funded, they have taken severe cuts to their budget. Those of us at the library certainly understand how budget cuts can affect the quality of service offered, in addition to the quantity of services available. While we can spend time trying to figure out who is to blame for this shortage of funds, it is a pointless activity. It is a reality, and so all government funded organizations simply must adjust to the new reality.
Iowa libraries and the local boards which govern them have the final authority to decide what programs and services their library will provide. This is a frustrating fiscal climate for all involved, from the libraries, to the job-seekers, to the various governmental entities. Spencer Public Library's director and assistant director met with Ed Wallace, director of IWD, this last week, and IWD has made some adjustments to its plan to incorporate libraries into the IWD access plan since the library board discussed the situation last month. In addition, it is our understanding that IWD access computers will be available at the extension office and the community college in town.
Iowa libraries already work hard to provide services to Iowa job seekers, and we will do our best for the citizens of Spencer. Iowa libraries and IWD share a common goal of providing high-quality services to Iowans and we look forward and encourage the development of a productive working relationship between Spencer Public Library and Iowa Workforce Development. Only time will tell how this will develop. In the meantime, anyone with constructive comments or observations on the subject can feel free to contact your local library board members. Don't know who they are? The information is available on the library website.