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TL v60n3: Getting Involved in Library Advocacy
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 60 Number 3
 

 2010

 

 Getting Involved in Library Advocacy

 by

Rachel Kirk
Collection Management and Acquisitions Librarian

Middle Tennessee State University

 

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Presented at the College & University Libraries Section Pre-Conference at TLA 2010 in Memphis on March 17, 2010.


We have just heard from Lori Goetsch, ACRL president and an expert in Advocacy.  I am not an expert in advocacy. I am someone who has participated in a typical way in the past.  I have sent letters to my congressman on behalf of the library.  I have participated in Legislative Day.  I have signed petitions.  The kind of things that all professionally active librarians do. 

Over the past year and a half my experiences in advocacy for interests and priorities has shifted from those of an individual nature to more collective activities.  This was not a conscious decision.  It was more of a one-thing-led- to-another type of situation.

For this presentation, I am simply going to describe my experiences and what I have learned from them. There is no power point presentation, only some examples of spreadsheets that were used in these efforts.

I began to get truly motivated last year when my employer Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) started having serious discussions about how they would enact mass terminations due to budget cuts.

I felt my livelihood was being threatened, first and foremost, but also I was gravely concerned about the impact of these potential budget reductions on my library, on my institution, and on other libraries of this recession.

As early as December 2008, our dean started asking us in Collection Management for a projected material budget. It turns out that a time-honored way of surviving recessions in libraries is to cut the materials budget and thereby protect positions. My colleague, Beverly Geckle, the serials librarian, and I started looking at the budget projections much more seriously than we had before. And from that activity came a valuable lesson.

The mere existence of a budget is evidence of political priorities within an institution and an important tool for advocacy.

These are examples of the budgets that we have used to try to plan our future budgets (see Appendix A).  Presenting budgeted materials at this level of detail forces the question, “Exactly what would you cut?”

The other thing that budgets do for us is help us clarify our needs to directors, parent institutions, the public, etc. And they become a visual aid in the educating constituents about what the library does.

As 2008 gave way to early 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed by Congress and signed into law. Like many of you, MTSU’s librarians struggled to learn about what we could use in that bill to help our library.

Last year, I was the Chair of Walker Library’s Librarians Organization. I started talking to other members about how we could qualify for the money. We were lucky enough to have some library colleagues with some grant writing experience in the organization and about six people drafted a prospectus for a proposal for 1.7 million dollars for our library.  This money, we projected, could support two new positions, a new ILS system, more books, graduate programs, and other resources that would fall into the guidelines of the grant.

The Library faculty voted on and approved this funding prospectus, and the document was to our Provost’s Office all within a week. What I learned from this process was Act Fast. Be the first to ask for new money.

No one really understands by what criteria the stimulus money was meted out, but by the time our dean met with the university president, the library was getting a new ILS system, and while we did not get two truly new positions, the two positions that we were not able to fill for the prior years were approved for hires. Both positions have been filled.

Another lesson I learned from this experience is that money is allocated and projects are approved in mysterious ways. Although the University's executive council never directly responded to our prospectus, I believe that it contributed to our windfall, if only because the library’s needs and aspirations were being expressed by new voices in addition to the formal and conventional organizational communication channels.

Over the last year, I began to appreciate our library’s position within the broader context of MTSU, Tennessee’s education system, and higher education in general. During this time, I joined United Campus Workers, the first union I have ever belonged to, and I found opportunities to demonstrate the importance of librarianship within this expanded context.

Part of United Campus Worker’s platform is that higher education is an economic driver for communities. In a meeting of UCW at MTSU, we discussed how to make the best arguments for our case. Because I am the Liaison for the Economics Department at MTSU, I was aware of the economic impact studies that were conducted and published by the Business Economic Research Center at MTSU and commissioned by the Office of the President of MTSU. 

Relying on the research skills that we all use every day in our jobs, I located, read and summarized the economic impact study for an in-district meeting with Senator Jim Tracy, and I wrote and published a Guest Columnist letter in the opinion section of The Daily News Journal (Appendix B).

In the spirit of American Library Association’s emphasis onFrontline Advocacy, I encourage librarians in Tennessee to work collectively with other libraries and their parent institutions and communities. It represents an opportunity for librarians to participate in ongoing and persuasive dialogue with both constituents and political representatives.

Appendix A:

MTSU Library Collection Management Sample Budget (pdf)

Appendix B:

THE DAILY NEWS JOURNAL
DECEMBER 11, 2009
GUEST COLUMN: MTSU's impact astounding

BY RACHEL KIRK

MTSU provides enormous value to both the local economy and the state of Tennessee.

According to the Business and Economic Research Center, MTSU generates $896.13 million in business revenue within the Nashville Metropolitan area with $395.85 million of revenue created in Rutherford County. The figures are compiled by Murat Arik and David Penn in "Economic Contributions of Middle Tennessee State University to the Local Community: An Update, Murfreesboro, TN: Business and Economic Research Center, Middle Tennessee State University," 2009, p.6).

Based on the state appropriation of $87 million of taxpayer dollars that support MTSU, the Middle Tennessee area reaps almost $9 for every $1 of state support the institution receives. How many investors have received a nine-fold return on investment in the past several years? Not many. Few entities, public or private, contribute as much to the region.

The $896 million that MTSU creates for the local and regional economy comes from the following broad categories:

student spending on tuition, housing, food, entertainment, clothing, etc., estimated at $447 million

operating and capital expenditures of MTSU that include building projects, maintenance, electricity, and utilities estimated at $148 million

payroll of $257 million for faculty and staff

visitor spending of $46 million

spending of MTSU retirees at $33 million. (Arik and Penn, 2008, p. 32)

These revenues directly drive retail trade on the Public Square and in The Avenue Murfreesboro as well as food services from B. McNeel's to McDonald's, the restaurant and hospitality business, real estate in the form of family homes and student apartments, health and social services, manufacturing, and finance and insurance. In the past six years, more than 3,500 new student housing units were built with a construction value of nearly $200 million (Arik & Penn, 2008, 38).

In addition, MTSU creates nearly as much tax revenue as the public assistance (driven by tax revenue) it receives. MTSU's enormous contribution is so deeply embedded in every nook of the local economy that it has become almost indistinguishable from other economic drivers and, as a result, invisible to most. When cities recruit big corporations, they use tax incentives with the theory that the revenues created by the new business will offset the reduction in taxes that was provided by the incentive.

In other words, they are hoping for the kind of long-term impact  to the local economy that MTSU provides. If we could assess the value of our educational and research institutions with similar standards to those used for for-profit institutions, we could appreciate that MTSU provides more value and revenue for the Middle Tennessee area than most.

I strongly encourage readers to reject simplistic arguments of "raise taxes" or "fire people" and search for alternatives that sustain this region's long-term economic viability. Given how deeply this institution impacts the economy, we need increased awareness of how many people could be hurt, even those who do not work directly for MTSU, if the university's workforce were reduced. Cutting MTSU's budget is not trimming the fat, it is severing an artery.
 


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