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Our Librarians Speak Up

Here is a statement from the Librarians’ Association of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, regarding recent events:

(Click on map for a larger image)

We, the members of the Librarians’ Association, the union representing the Buffalo & Erie County Public Librarians, have found ourselves confronted by a period of unprecedented financial challenge and administrative secrecy.

During this year’s contentious budgetary process, it was dedicated local librarians that spoke out on behalf of patrons and the communities they serve.   As the citizens of Erie County rallied and wrote, the Library’s Administration and Trustees strangely stood silent.

After a hard fought battle for funding, the library – even with a one-time $3 million allotment – finds itself facing a $3.8 million shortfall for the year.  Adding insult to injury, bitter party politics and a flawed legislative process have created a situation in which the library system will start the 2012 budgetary process with $4 million less in its operating budget.

And now, with Ms. Quinn-Carey’s departure, the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library is left to face all these daunting realities without a permanent director.  With all that did and did not happen in recent months, one is left to wonder when exactly she began planning her exit strategy.

Quite simply, the 2011 funding deficit has directly resulted in system-wide consolidation, reduced resources and the lay-off of numerous librarians and staff effective February 2nd.  If these changes weren’t already challenging enough, librarians are now being reassigned, out of their areas of collection expertise and out of the communities they know and love, without any consultation and without any funds available for training.

In a time of shared adversity and growing need, doesn’t it just make sense to consult librarians, the front-line service professionals, about potential and proposed ideas – particularly as it relates to efficiency and feasibility?

To Administration and the Trustees, we say we “Re-Imagine” better.


  • Fred

    This is outrageous! The realignment is because of union rules, you all know who goes first and those people are taken out based on seniority and not skills, and that causes a greater realignment of staff than would be possible if jobs were reduced as needed, therefore it is your own fault. As far as this idea that the board and administration has somehow benefited from this and worked in secrecy against your “union” and the public please expand on how this makes any sense and how anyone benefit was derived from this? All this conspiracy theory with no end game.
    What is the reward? Getting grief for public service? The best thing about all this chatter is the self preservation tactics of these so called concerned citizens, they all are union employees of the county. They don’t really give a hoot about the service to the community, which they need to be reminded is what they are suppose to be doing, they are all about the benefits and pay. The disconnect with reality here is amazing. Shame on you and your union pissing and moaning. Anyone reading this should take a good look at these unions, as there are at least 3 at the library, and realize the cost associated with these unions and how it drains your tax funded services. I will say it again most of this concern for the community is nothing more than self serving protectionism for county jobs. I am not buying any of it for even a second.

    To the unions I say – get with the program you are here to serve the public not the other way around!

  • Anne

    Fred, you’ve posted a lot of angry rants lately. I’m concerned about you…(and I’m not being facetious). Please consider what I’m about to write to you.

    You seem to have an unhealthy fixation on Unions as some source of pure evil. This is a press release, and as such is meant to be somewhat provacative. But I would hope we could discuss the issue without becoming downright nasty. A renewed sense of respectful debate has been in the news this week. Please consider this before your next post.

    As to your last comment, most of these librarians do want to serve the public. That’s why they’re upset that the’re getting layed-off. These are good people Fred. They live in our community, they pay taxes, they raise children here. They are not your “enemy.” They are not trying to ruin this county. They chose this profession because they believed in it. They simply expected their administrative leaders to feel the same way.

  • Lisa

    Why would a press release from a professional organization be meant to be provocative? As a member of several professional organizations I would be a little embarassed to be part of a “professional” group that released the above open letter to the public, it is not very professional, in fact it is rather sophmoric.

    I hope the libraries find their feet and everyone gets what they want, but I can’t see much good in the above release as far as spurring positive debate.

    L

  • Fred

    Let us be clear the above open letter to the public is not from an individual librarian, but a union.

    Does my response to this faceless union upset the union? Does the union go home sad and misunderstood? I think not. But with that said I will put it out there that I am open to having my mind changed by this union so please enlighten me on how the union(s) came to the table during this time of crisis and offered any (please just one example) concession to get through this economic crisis. Feel free to speak beyond the librarians’ union as there were multiple organizations that took a hit this last budget go around.

    I don’t think I am going out on a limb to assume there will be no response to this request as the answer is no concessions were made, not even an offer to negotiate, nada, zippo. The most amazing part of this lack of action and flexibility is that the younger librarians will lose their jobs because their “brothers and sisters” have thrown them under the bus rather than try and save all of their jobs. Where can I sign up and pay dues for this privilege?

    This open letter is just the same old union BS that; administration failed us, conspiracies abound, blah, blah, blah. No substance just innuendo, speculation and totally disingenuous.

    The only redeeming factor is that no one I know is buying into the idea that WNY needs stronger municipal union(s) to get us out of our economic woes.

    I don’t begrudge anyone doing their job to want more, and I believe like teachers, cops, and other muni. employees are mostly good folks just working their jobs like anyone else. Most of the teachers I have come across with my children are very hard working dedicated professionals, but face it these unions are out of control. They are an embarrassment not only to the community, but to the professionals that they represent. For example how do you take basically every profession; police, fire, teachers, librarians, that use to be looked up to and admired by the community and turn them into fine tuned whining machines. Your members ought to revolt and demand some sound leadership that takes a bigger picture view of the reality of WNY.

    Come on, win back our hearts and minds and stop this nonsense!

  • Mia

    Public librarians do not take on the debt of obtaining a Master’s Degree with the thoughts of becoming union members, they do so to provide information, services and resources to their communities. There are many of us in the professional library community (both unionized and not, Fred) that have shared in the same frustration that our colleagues at BECPL are feeling with administration and the system Board of Trustees over what we see as incremental and systematic destruction of a great library system. When the people of Erie County rallied, wrote, e-mailed and called their Legislators to get funding restored, it was with the hope that we could help create a better, stronger system. Instead, that money was used to lay off people leading to reduced hours and services.

    I personally do not see the statement above as provocative, I see it as a view into what is happening to the library system my tax dollars are supporting and the continuation of questions that need to be answered.

  • Fred

    I don’t understand “that money was used to lay off people.” I seriously do not understand how money was used to lay off people. Please explain. I understood that 3 million was restored and I believe that saved librarian jobs and non-librarian jobs, as well as extending hours at all locations, albeit not to the previous levels of 2010, is that not correct?

    If you are referring to the general lack of money at the county level that is different and that is a totally different conversation that I will, and have in other posts, be willing to debate. The money is not there, or here, or elsewhere especially with the feds turning off the stimulus tap that has made things appear better than they have been over the past two years. Here in WNY these funds can only come through raising taxes or taking out other services to fund one over another adn there is little room to do that.

    Finally, I agree completely with you about librarians seeking and paying for degrees and whishing to do good work, I applaud that. The point I am making is that this above release made by the union (not a individual librarian), that we are discussing here on this thread, is childish and lacks any concrete conversation about issues. If you feel it represents your view as a member that is fine, otherwise get yourself some better union leadership, because it appears they failed you and are looking for a scapegoat. It is weak and completely unprofessional.

  • p/t

    the people who wrote this letter are literally just a handful of librarians who make modest incomes. They also have health insurance (some of them) for when they get sick, and retirement plans (some) for when they get old. They have worked in the library system for over a decade, and they’re trying to save the jobs of younger librarians through public discourse. The newer librarians have been hired for two years as “regular part time” which means they work nearly the same amount of hours for half the benefits. So when you say librarians haven’t made concessions, you’re really just spouting rhetoric.
    The people who make the real money are the top. Why you get so pissed off about people trying to make an honest living is beyond me.

    if you care so much about this subject that you’re willing to spend all day blasting away on artvoice, why don’t you just do a little real research? go down to the library, call the librarians association, call your county legislator, and come up with something to say.

  • Fred

    I have come up with a lot to say, just read my posts.

    Those who wrote this letter? It came from a union, it is not a person(s), no matter how you try to change that, it came from an entity, don’t you get that? It is like a corporation, so I don’t care it has no face.

    I will add to it that you could save a lot of younger librarians’ jobs by allowing those that do a great job in their area to be rewarded and not to be replaced by someone who doesn’t know the job, but put the years in. Nice comeback buddy, but this is all your union’s making. “Consult the frontline people about the changes?” What consultation is there to have? There is no choice.

    Again, what was the plan put forward by the union within the last five months? I am waiting, and if I missed a news article or other post just show me it, educate me please.

    I am talking about this joke of an open letter to the public put forth by the union. What is this demand for “answers” – what answers? I don’t need to go far to see WNY is in the financial crapper and this is the result of no one wanting to relocate their companies to this area, can you guess why? Can you see beyond your desk to what is going on, there’s no money hidden away, there’s no bonuses being paid out to downsize, how many other institutions took a hit like the libraries. Do you think just yelling at everyone and accusing people of who knows what will fix the libraries and make money fall from the sky? Take a ride down Route 5 into Lackawanna and tell me about how things are doing in WNY. Open your eyes and look around and stop this whoa is me the working class guy just trying to serve the public. As I said before keep it up till there is nothing left, the kids all leave the area and you get the scraps. Nice big picture view.

    Finally, don’t get mad at me because I am articulating what everyone is feeling – sick and tired of this union BS. You made your own bed.

  • Voice of Reason

    First, for the sake of clarification, no conspiracy here. Just one level-headed non-librarian who loves and cares about our county’s libraries…and who is, yes, a Republican.

    Fred, with all due respect, reading some articles in print and on the web may help inform one’s opinion, but it certainly doesn’t make a person an “expert”. Of course, you are entitled to your opinion, but are the overgeneralizations really necessary?

    While I can’t speak specifically to the environment at the library, I can imagine countless scenarios in organizations, both public and private, where an individual might not feel comfortable speaking out publicly. Sometimes a group can give voice to issues that an individual might not be able to do on his or her own.

    How about we stop the conjecture and speculation and instead ask ourselves and the key players a couple of important questions: “What is the long term and short term plan for the library in these hard economic times? Are there larger issues here that need resolution and possibly more discussion?” I don’t know, but I am willing to hear out all parties and entertain any and all ideas that might help this institution.

    Let me start by suggesting we listen, attend discussions, read posted library meeting minutes and documents (http://www.buffalolib.org/aboutthelibrary/index.asp), and offer feedback to the administration on what is important to us as patrons. In life you rarely get second chances, and with as something as important as a library, we all need to understand how these changes will impact the system now and in the future.

  • Fred

    VofR – well put. I couldn’t agree more. Please note my frustration, the basis of this thread, is with this official public statement/position put forth by the union.

  • Jayne

    Fred,
    Please understand a few things:

    a) Retention of long time employees versus newly hired ones is based upon NYS Civil Service law. You seem to have the concept of seniority but you imply that the union dictates this. It’s NYS law.

    b) Concessions? As mentioned by another poster, newer hirees forced into RPT status. The Library did not have the RPT requirement imposed upon them but the Library went along with the arrangement at the behest of Administration who wanted to please Mr. Collins. It’s “managerial prerogative” consequently new employees were forced to accept it. Several unions have gone to arbitration over this issue. Why? How fair is to professional (those who have earned master’s degrees) to do the same work as their colleagues and not be equally compensated? The librarians have been without a contract for several years so no COLA during this time.

    c) Employees are concerned that Board of Trustee members are politically aligned with Mr. Collins. Through the course of the budget ordeal, key members said that they did not want to do battle with Collins. AV reported on the political contributions made by several members to Collins for Our Future campaign fund. Whose interests are these people serving when they make contributions to the person who appoints them to their position of trust?

    d) The bottom line is politics and deafening silence reduced funding to an Institution that serves all walks of life. The librarians that provide this service and the para-professionals who aid them simply want to give the best service possible. The $3 million saved some librarian and non-librarian jobs but many had to take a cut in rank and pay to stay on. Some of that $3 mill. and fund balance money is being used to pay unemployment and residual benefits i.e. unused vacation and compensatory time of those who will be unemployed.

    Get the whole picture before you start trashing people who care about their profession and their community while earning a modest living.

  • Ben

    Fred,
    What’s outrageous is that you feel compelled to comment obsessively on a topic that you don’t seem to know much about. An opinion is one thing, but statements such as “they all are union employees of the county. They don’t really give a hoot about the service to the community” are grossly childish, and discredit anything else you say. Blanket statements–like being in a union equals not doing your job or not caring about it–have no real place in this discussion.

    When is the last time you actually spent time at one of the libraries? I go to the Niagara branch every week, and I’ve never had a bad experience there. The people who work there are very friendly and professional, and have helped me countless times. People like this (and I’m sure they exist at the other libraries) definitely care about serving the community. I get the feeling you’re not a library user at all.

    I care about the libraries and I want to know what is really going on there, and what the future holds. I think that is all this press release was meant to tell people.

  • Betty Jean Grant

    I never understood why the Buffalo and Erie County Board of Trustees ‘settled’ for # million dollars when the Democratic-majority was fighting for-and had the votes- to change the county executive’s library funding resolution to 4 million dollars. We had at least 8 votes for that and I believe that if we had amended and approved the $4 million dollars deal,the Republican Legislators would have voted with the Democrats to override the county executive’s veto, which I am sure Mr. Collins would have issued. I also found it quite strange that the board did a press conference asking the legislature to approve the $3 million before any of them asked if we had enough votes to approve the $4 million dollars package. With the additional $1 million dollars the legislature would have approved, there would be less of a monetary loss. Something is not quite right,here.

  • Betty Jean Grant

    I am sorry about the typo in the first sentence. # should be 3 million dollars.

  • Fred

    If you really are Betty Jean Grant are you serious? Are you actually confused as to how you and the others operated through this issue?

    Take some responsibility. You had the votes? Then why didn’t you take the vote? You had nothing, you failed the other groups and you failed the library.

    I will simply state that I am speechless. The board settled? The board didn’t have a say in the final vote, the board didn’t set the agenda you and your fellow legislators did. If you had the votes than you could have brought it to a vote and been done with it.

    You have to be kidding someone pretending to a legislator, you can’t possibly be a real person in this position.

  • Fred

    Dear Jane who do you think lobbied to put that law in place?

  • Fred

    Let me wrap it up here folks this one man show needs to end.
    1. Glad I got the discussion moving along, too bad it wasn’t a larger audience.
    2. Keep in mind that this particular thread is about that letter way up there that was released by a union, as an official statemetn/position piece, that is supposed to represent professionals. No matter how you cut it, it is not professional.
    3. Most of that letter, please read it again, is full of innuendo, conspiracy theories and general whining about how everyone else did you wrong. (“administrative secrecy”, “strangely stood silent”, “bitter party politics and a flawed legislative process”, “one is left to wonder.”) Yeah, this is real discourse. I remember reading letters like this written by disgruntled students about the teachers in the secret papers passed around my high school. Or was it Junior High?………………….. “one is left to wonder” about what? Is Mr. Smith trying to give us all bad grades in math because he was picked on when he went to school and now hates children? I wonder, do you?
    4. You members who signed off on it should be ashamed because it brings nothing to the table in terms of how to save libraries or help the WNY community, it is all about your jobs and how someone, somebody, or some entity took your stuff. (see posts on WNY economic reality) If you want people to rally to your side, don’t go into the conspiracy thing, it just makes you look kooky.
    5. Ms. Grant, if it is you, good luck, I certainly would not want to be in your shoes, but you picked to run and here you are. Please try and remember that there are 15 of you and only three rings in the circus, be polite and allow each other access.
    6. Finally, put out a letter that actually touches on real issues in this matter and it just might get printed beyond this online paper.

    Good luck,
    Fred

  • notjustsourgrapes

    Well, we have to give credit to Fred for fomenting discussion. But, yes, he is oddly obsessed with unions.

    I think the statement issued above is intended as advocacy for the library and librarians. It’s trying to be more than a whiney complaint as Fred stated, but is an attempt to get the public to understand the destruction that is going on at the BECPL. Not just librarians whining about their jobs, but YOUR library being dismantled by the library leadership (management, non-union librarian administrators), via the devaluing of the professionals that have always been the caretakers of libraries (librarians); by shutting down half of the Central Library and treating it like a branch, (the administrative vision amounts to little more than a storefront at this point), by closing the Children’s Room downtown, by reducing hours at the branches, by centralizing services like materials ordering, that were once handled by knowledgeable people who worked directly with the public.

    The librarians union hopes to defend a profession that really cares profoundly about what’s best for the community, not just their seniority. Go down there, talk to people, check out the shelves – it’s all falling apart and it is not because of the union, which really has very little power in the case of the librarians.

    The librarians union wants to connect the dots between the value of librarians and the very important community resource, our public library system, but it is a difficult message to get across because most people only see that there is a warm body at a desk and some books on the shelf. They don’t see what’s really going on, which in the end will hurt the community because it is pushing down the quality of a great and special resource, our public library system.

  • Jayne

    “Dear Jane who do you think lobbied to put that law in place?” Yes, Fred it was Sponge Bob Squarepants. I knew you’d come back with that because you are obsessed with unions and the perceived inequity between members and non-union members. Please understand that if someone works for a governmental entity they *must* be unionized. They cannot independently bargain on their own. It’s the law. Of course unions of yore played a role in lobbying for laws–what are they supposed to do? Lobby in favor of laws that don’t protect their membership? I won’t continue to feed your “I hate unions” fire but please stop presuming that you are the only one who knows anything.

    We’re talking libraries, their future, their users and the people who provide services. Understand the following:

    1) Politics are at play. Chris Collins hates anything that levels the playing field and provides opportunities equally. He is a self-made millionaire (who liquidates and never builds business) and in his eyes everyone else should be too. Consequently, he sees no need to fund libraries and wants library administrators to rely upon the private sector more heavily. Why should it be a private entity’s responsibility to do this? It’s a **public** not private library system.

    2) Employees must play by the rules they’re given i.e. collective bargaining. The librarians haven’t had a contract in several years. Despite the infusion of a one time $3 million, lay offs for librarian and non-librarians are happening, hours are being cut, and people with subject expertise are being shuffled away from where they can do the most good. The press release above is to alert the public to this fact and to forewarn that things aren’t going to get better.

    3) Without established leadership to arrange for a different funding system i.e. Quinn-Carey’s idea of bringing the library budget directly to the people for a vote, it will be that much more difficult to get it up and running. Meanwhile, state cuts will continue and Grinch Collins will also want to cut further. This means even more reduced services, hours, location and staff in 2012. Something that library management doesn’t want to put too fine a point on at this time.

  • Anne

    First off, an apology to Legislator Grant for the rude reception she received in this comments string. Regular readers of Artvoice know that Ms. Grant is a frequent contributor. I for one like that one of our elected leaders participates in our democratic process and regularly speaks with constituents in this forum. Thank you Ms. Grant.

    Also, I couldn’t help but notice in today’s Buffalo News, an extremely small article, “Sales tax collections for 2010 grow by $7 million”. Why is this interesting? Because back in July when Chris Collins first announced the 20% cut to libraries and other county departments, he specifically said it was because Erie County would not make sales tax revenue targets for 2010. That was his rationale and explanation for his actions. Read for yourself:

    Today’s article on 2010 sales tax revenue:
    http://www.buffalonews.com/city/communities/erie-county/article313939.ece

    July 27, 2010 article on the “need” for the cuts:
    http://www.buffalonews.com/city/article82252.ece

    These cuts, and the actions of the library Board of Trustees and Administration have always been and remain to be politically motivated. At the first Board meeting this summer after the cuts were announced, one Trustee vociferously stated “I am not going to war with Chris Collins!” This was in response to another Trustee’s suggestion that the Board very publicly announce the results of such draconian cuts. The discussion of fighting against the cuts ended there. How about going to war for the library system you are entrusted with protecting? Of course, such statements never seem to be released in the Board minutes.

    If you want to know what goes on in the library system, get involved. Go to Trustee meetings [they are open to the public], and participate in the public comment portion. Ask questions. It’s your library and it has been for 175 years. It does not belong to the County Executive, his political appointees or allies in Administration. Let’s remind our politicians, trustees, and administrators that we are all temporary custodians for the public library. The library and its collections exist today because those that came before us took that role very seriously. Let’s make sure we do the same for those that come after us.

    As such, it is perfectly reasonable to question the actions, lack of action, and policies that the Trustees and Administrators have taken.