Fighting for Library Programming in a Tough Economy

In difficult economic times, libraries are usually among the first social institutions to feel the pinch – after all, funding is generally cut just as more and more people turn to the library for free services. In this issue, we focus on doing more with less in your programs, spotlighting fresh ideas and tales from librarians who have kept their programs going in innovative ways.  Legislators and administrators, faced with budget shortfalls, are often tempted to cut funding for library programming, which may seem “frivolous” or “unnecessary”. That’s why it’s up to us to advocate for the children and families we serve, and make those who control the purse strings understand just how much is going on besides shaking our sillies out.

Here are five research-based talking points you can use to support programming in your library:

1) According to the National Institute for Literacy, approximately 43% of adults with very low literacy skills live in poverty, and about 70% of adult welfare recipients scored lower level literacy skills on the National Assessment of the Adult Literacy (NAAL). ( Parents who do not have or value literacy skills cannot pass those values and skills on to their children, therefore free library programming for children and caregivers is a crucial link in creating reading skills in the next generation.

2) Though the stories, songs, and fun activities of storytime may seem like frivolity to the untrained eye, research has proven again and again that young children learn best through play. Library storytimes are designed to present and reinforce concepts such as phonemes (the smallest parts of words), rhythm, rhyme, fine and gross motor skills, and text-to-self connection – all vital pre-reading skills. (For more about learning through play, see  this great article by Shelley Butler.)

3) Just learning how to read is not enough. To create a generation of truly literate, educated individuals, we must make sure that children love to read. As researcher Judy MacLean says so eloquently in her paper, Library preschool storytimes: Developing early literacy skills in children,  “Librarians are in their own way teachers – perhaps not so much in teaching children the mechanics of how to read, but in teaching children how to love to read. By making literacy fun, they set the early literacy foundations needed for reading success.”

4) If programming seems too costly, then consider this: the cost of illiteracy is much, much higher, estimated at twenty billion dollars each year. This includes the lost earnings for the illiterate who cannot get and hold jobs, welfare expenditures for those who lack the literacy skills to get jobs, prison maintenance for inmates whose imprisonment can be linked to their illiteracy, and the cost of accidents and equipment damage caused by workers who can’t read machine operation instructions. (

5) In a literate society, success in everyday activities depending upon reading. Those who struggle with literacy are at greater risk for anxiety, depression, anger, and low self-esteem. Creating a positive environment in which to learn basic emergent literacy skills can prevent a plethora of social and emotional problems in later life.  (

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