Monday, May 17, 2010

Food - and misc thoughts

Several times recently, in Baton Rouge in particular, I have ordered "macaroni and cheese" as a side dish. In each case I have been surprised to get what I would call "spaghetti and cheese." To my literal, Eastern US mind, that is a different dish. [Actually, sometimes it was a mixture of spaghetti and linguine.]

A number of months ago, we were at our favorite barbecue joint in New Orleans, Squeal (on Oak Street). It is walking distance from home, go there! We asked why they did not have M+C on the menu. The owner/co-owner said that they had not been able to develop a dish which would stand up to waiting and being served with the right consistency. [As a home consumer, mostly immediately, I had not thought about the heat-table issues.] By the way, the menu at Squeal rocks...and they sometimes have "bacon vodka." The latter is a real treat!

I got to thinking about the meaning of the word "macaroni." For me, macaroni refers to a hollow shape of extruded pasta which has a hollow interior. For the most part, it is "elbow macaroni" (i.e. with a slight bend) and could be extended to ziti, rigatoni, and other hollow shapes. Interestingly, Wikipedia seems to agree.

I have heard Italian-Americans in the northeast use the term "macaroni" to refer to all pasta as macaroni, but that has been rare. Now, I have made pasta (linguine, spaghetti, spaghettini, etc.) but all of those are noodles, not extruded.

It has been an interesting change. BTW, Italians have been in the New Orleans area almost as long as they have been in the Northeastern US.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Impacts of budget cuts

Seven years ago, at the behest of the Connecticut State Library, the four existing multi-type library organizations folded into one. I had some misgivings, but it actually has worked pretty well. I suspect that some miss the personal touch from a more local organization. [In the interest of full disclosure, I had been the executive director of one of those four networks until I left to return to being a public library director.]

Massachusetts is in the process of following this model. I will note, that the geography and the geo-politics of Massachusetts are very different than Connecticut. I grew up there. Massachusetts is very much more spread out than Connecticut. After all, you can drive diagonally across CT in a few hours, and in MA, the distance from the New York border to Boston is more than that, and then you have "the Cape."

One of my few "publications" is an article based on a talk I gave many years ago. The article talks about successful library cooperative networks. While I was a director of one, a network I admired incredibly was the North Suburban Library System, run by the incomparable (and former ALA President) Sarah Ann Long.

I recently received an email which had this in it:
Dear NSLS Members and Colleagues,

I have sad but significant news. Due to our budget situation, NSLS will be dramatically scaling back programs and services effective May 30, 2010.

From our recent Needs Assessment Survey, we know Van Delivery service is the most important service for the majority of members. We will take all necessary steps to preserve this service intact. But most other services and programs will be dramatically reduced, eliminated, or spun off. Many NSLS staffers will be laid off. I will be one of the people leaving. We are still working out the details but quick action is needed.

As you are aware, 80% of our funding comes from an annual grant from the Illinois General Assembly distributed through Sec. of State Jesse White's office. We have not received 42% of the money owed to us for the fiscal year ending June, 30. If we continue to operate without making any service or staffing changes, our money would run out at the end of July 2010. We had hoped to receive additional funding soon, but our latest intelligence tells us that we are not likely to receive any state payments until November 2010 at the earliest. We are told this is not a temporary problem. Rather, there is a trend in Illinois to continue to delay state payments, not just to library systems. This means that cash flow is going to be a continuing and growing problem for NSLS, as well as many other state funded agencies and organizations. Under these conditions, we cannot continue to offer our members the high level of service they expect and deserve.

As you can imagine, this was a very difficult decision to make. But I would not be fulfilling my responsibility as NSLS Executive Director or the System’s responsibility to our members as a whole if we did not take serious and immediate action to help preserve what is left of our budget.

To remind you how we got here, Illinois library systems have not had a budget increase in 20 years. On top of this flat funding, last August, we received a 16 ½% budget cut. Since we had just received our final payment from the previous fiscal year, we were already working under a deficit but at that time we did not recognize that cash flow would become more disabling than flat funding and budget reductions. Despite this bleak situation, we were determined to fight to ensure that systems did not receive any additional cuts. We initiated two statewide campaigns, one targeted at legislators and the other targeted at Governor Quinn and Comptroller Hynes. More recently, we initiated a campaign to inspire public library boards to contact Secretary of State, Jesse White, to ask for the release of the Live and Learn funds for regional library systems. I have also contacted our area legislators personally to see if they could do anything to help us. We achieved some results from these efforts, but it wasn’t enough.

I am confident that we have done everything possible to turn this situation around. Unfortunately, we have run out of options. Other Illinois library systems are on different time lines as to when they will run out of money, but they are also in trouble.

Many thanks to all who have participated in our campaigns, contacted legislators or offered help or solace during this crisis. I am very grateful for your support. We will keep you posted regarding the details of this change as well as additional changes to System services and staffing

Yours faithfully,
It distresses me incredibly to get news like this.

Of all governmental agencies, libraries are the most cooperative across taxing district borders. We share a communicate with each other better than any other governmental unit! Each state has its own culture of how that cooperation happens. For most states, the cooperation between libraries should be a model of how other governmental units can cooperate to provide better service to taxpayers.

When a stellar example of cooperative service like NSLS is forced to curtail service in a time of increasing need, I am outraged!

I wish I knew that I could change/affect the decision.

Even more, I mourn the departure (however temporary) of a library leader like Sarah.

When she ran for ALA President, I did not know her well. Since then I have come to know, respect, like\ (and yeah, even love) her for the leadership she provides.

This is truly a sad day.